Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

by Sarah on September 26, 2011

So the story goes that the whores of Italy would whip together this pasta dish between customers–because it was just that fast and easy (not to mention salty and spicy).  Wikipedia isn’t playing along however, and argues that this dish likely wasn’t even invented until the Sixties, when it was first mentioned in an Italian novel.

Whatever the backstory, this is one of my favorite pasta dishes to make.  It literally takes 5 minutes to make and you can use all ingredients from your cupboards if you don’t have any fresh tomatoes.  It has a lot of seemingly strange ingredients but together, they make a masterpiece!

It’s simultaneously salty, spicy, briny, garlicky and sweet.

You would be wise to get the water boiling before you start the sauce.  It seriously goes that fast.

When the noodles are cooked, put them right in the sauce to finish them up for a minute.  They’ll absorb some of that sauce and taste even better.

Serve it up with some Parmesan if you like and forget Wikipedia.  I prefer to twirl my spaghetti and think of all the ladies of the evening cooking this on their hotplates in some dingy hallway.


Spaghetti alla Puttanesca


  • 1/3 cup good quality olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes (or 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes)
  • 2 Tbsp capers, drained
  • 1/2 cup kalamata or other briny olives, chopped
  • 2 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 lb spaghetti


  • Bring a large pot of salted water up to a boil.
  • In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, then add the chopped tomatoes, garlic, anchovy paste and chili flakes. Cook until the tomatoes are softened and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Put spaghetti in the boiling water and stir.
  • Add the capers, olives and basil. Stir through. When the pasta is al dente, about 5 minutes, add to the skillet with the sauce, let cook for a minute. Toss through so that all the strands are coated.
  • Serve with a bit of Parmesan.

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