Puttana, or buttana in Sicilian, means a slut or whore. The name of this pasta dish, “alla Puttanesca,” translates as pasta in the style of a whore. Although this dish was not originally called Pasta alla Puttanesca in Sicily, it is now universally recognized by this name. The exact origin of the dish is not known. Allegedly, this was a quick dish that whores would cook to either entice men or quickly make between customers. When used in a different context, the word “whore” can also be an off-color compliment like the word sexy. In my opinion, the dish was named because of similar characteristics that might be attributed to a slut or this dish – hot, salty, spicy, and dare I say – easy.
Made with tomatoes, onion, garlic, anchovies, black olives, capers, parsley, and red pepper, this aromatic pasta dish is bursting with flavor. It’s a perfect dish to make for dinner or company when you’re pressed for time or don’t feel like putting in a lot of effort. Serve it in the traditional Sicilian style with a toasted breadcrumb topping if you like.
PASTA ALLA PUTTANESCA
Difficulty rating: Easy
Makes 4 servings.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4-5 anchovy fillets, chopped (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can peeled San Marzano or plum tomatoes, chopped and juices reserved
1/2 cup pitted and halved oil-cured black olives
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons large capers
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and black pepper
Additional minced parsley for topping
1 pound spaghetti, linguine, or penne pasta
Toasted Bread Crumb Topping (Optional):
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs or 1 cup bread crumbs and 1/4 cup ground almonds
1. MAKE THE SAUCE: Heat oil in a large, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in anchovy and cook until dissolved, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and juices, 1/4 cup water, olives, capers, parsley, and red pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Stir in sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook 5 to 10 minutes longer.
2. COOK THE PASTA: While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook to “al dente.” Drain and place into individual serving bowls. Spoon sauce over pasta and serve topped with parsley and breadcrumbs.
OPTIONAL BREADCRUMB TOPPING: Make ahead of time. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a small skillet over low heat. Stir in the breadcrumbs, almonds, and salt to taste. Stir continuously until lightly toasted. Immediately remove from heat and transfer to a small serving bowl.