Spaghetti alla puttanesca

Whore’s pasta in English.

We have all heard some story linking this pasta to the ladies of the night. What I have heard over and over was that they would make this sauce to attract clients by its distinctive aroma. Whether they served it to them either before or after the main event or just kept it for themselves remains a mystery. Some say that, because it is such a quick sauce, it was convenient to make between clients and they could go on with more serious business. Others say that the sauce is reminiscent of ladies’ underwear: the red of the tomatoes, the green of the capers, the black of the olives.

This sauce became popular in the 1960s and 1970s and was more probably invented by a restaurateur in Ischia according to Annarito Cuomo, a journalist at Il Golfo, a periodic of the time.

This is a recipe that I have worked on for a while and, if I did not reinvent the wheel here, I am very proud of my version which is more oil-based than tomato-based. Serve this sauce over grilled chicken or white fish instead of pasta or add canned tuna for added protein. Whatever you do, don’t be stingy on the oil and use a combination of green and black olives. You can omit the anchovies altogether as they do in Naples and make it vegetarian.

This sauce is traditionally served without cheese as it is salty enough.

For 4 servings:

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained of all liquid (use the juice for something else)
1 teaspoon good quality dried oregano
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/2 cup total combined green and black olives, halved or quartered
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
450 g spaghetti


1. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, cook the anchovies, garlic and hot red pepper flakes in the oil for a few minutes, until fragrant.
2. Add the tomatoes, oregano, capers and olives, stir to combine and continue to cook over low heat while you cook the pasta.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and cook the pasta for one minute less than the instructions on the package.
4. Just before your pasta is done, add the parsley to the sauce and stir.
5. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid and toss the pasta with the sauce. Add a bit of pasta cooking water and stir over low heat for one minute until combined. Add more water if needed.
6. Serve in warm bowls.

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