Way back in my family line, there must have been an Italian explorer who made it to the Philippines and settled into the island life. Our family thrives on pasta, a fact I find simply ironic because I grew up with a pot of rice for dinner every day of the week. I’m always looking for pasta recipes to add to my repertoire– particularly classic ones.
I’ve often seen recipes for pasta puttanesca– pasta “in the whore’s style.” Unlike chicken scarpiello, spaghetti alla puttanesca has its origins in Italy. It is a spicy, tangy tomato sauce built upon garlic, anchovies, olives, red pepper flakes and capers.
The story I’ve heard most about this dish’s origins is that it came about in the 1950s when brothels were state-owned. At the time, these ladies of easy virtue were allowed only one day per week to shop in the market; hence, they purchased many non-perishable goods like tins of anchovies, cans of capers, oil-cured olives, dried garlic. The second background story I’ve heard is that the dish was quick for the ladies to prepare between “clients.”
I gave it a try tonight; it was super easy to assemble. I started to prepare the sauce as soon as I turned the stove on for the pasta water to boil. Everything came together perfectly. The original dish calls for red pepper flakes, but since Ken was getting over the stomach bug, I withheld them. I definitely will add them next time because with all the other strong flavors, that additional kick of heat would take it over the top.
Since it’s really a “throw it all together” sauce, I read several versions of the sauce and then came up with my own– like adding onions to the sauce for another layer of flavor. Feel free to experiment, but keep in mind the basic ingredients of garlic, anchovies, oil-cured olives, red pepper flakes and capers.
Whore’s Spaghetti (Spaghetti alla Puttanesca)
- 2/3 to 1 lb uncooked spaghetti
- 3-4 oz oil cured olives, pitted and roughly chopped (roughly 1 generous cup)
- 1 medium onion, small dice
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 TB capers (I used the small ones, but feel free to use the larger size)
- 6 anchovy filets (oil packed) or 2 tsp anchovy paste
- 1 can (14.5 oz) Italian-style diced tomatoes
- 1 c reserved pasta water from boiling the spaghetti
- 3 TB chopped Italian parsley (optional)
- olive oil for sauteing
Bring a pot of water to boil. Salt the water. Cook spaghetti til al dente. Don’t forget to reserve a cup of pasta water.
In the meantime, prepare the sauce by heating some oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until softened.
Add the minced garlic, red pepper flakes and anchovies and stir well, allowing the anchovies to “melt” into the garlic and onions. (Note: I omitted the red pepper flakes because of Ken).
Stir in the capers and olives.
Pour in the tomatoes and stir to combine.
Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 5 minutes to bring all the flavors together.
By this time, the pasta should be ready, if not already drained and waiting. Add pasta to the pan and toss to combine. Add reserved pasta water by the tablespoon if needed to loosen the sauce. Sprinkle with parsley, toss again and serve right out of the pan!