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Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
A specialty of Italy's Campania region, this pasta probably appears on every restaurant menu in Naples. Puttana is Italian slang for "harlot," and this pasta dish is said to be as spicy as a lady of the evening. The Italians do not serve cheese with this dish because of the anchovy, but some people may want grated pecorino on top. If fresh basil is not available, substitute 2 tsp. dried oregano and add with the red pepper flakes when making the puttanesca sauce.

Ingredients:

For the tomato sauce:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 lb. tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or
     4 cups canned plum tomatoes, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of sugar, if needed
  • 2 herbs of choice: 6 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley,
     1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, 2 Tbs. chopped
     fresh oregano or marjoram, 2 Tbs. chopped
     fresh thyme
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic, or to taste
  • 1 to 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbs. drained capers, rinsed and coarsely
     chopped
  • 1 1/4 cups fresh basil, cut into thin strips
  • 20 Mediterranean-style black olives, preferably
      Gaeta, pitted and quartered or sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb. dried spaghetti

Directions:

To make the tomato sauce, in a saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to release its fragrance. Stir in the tomatoes, reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, 15 to 20 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. If the tomatoes are tart, add the sugar. Stir in any 2 of the fresh herbs. Simmer over low heat for 2 minutes to blend the flavors. Use immediately or let cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. You will need 2 cups tomato sauce for this recipe; reserve the remainder for another use.

In a small food processor, process the anchovy fillets to a puree; you should have about 1 heaping Tbs. (Alternately, pound in a mortar with a pestle or crush in a small bowl using a fork.)

In a sauté pan over low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the 1 Tbs. garlic and the anchovy and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Then add 1 tsp. of the red pepper flakes. Stir in the 2 cups tomato sauce and simmer, uncovered, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the capers, basil and olives and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper and more red pepper flakes, if desired.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot three-fourths full of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta, stir well and cook until al dente (tender but firm to the bite), about 8 minutes or according to the package instructions.

If the sauce has finished cooking and has cooled a bit, reheat gently. Drain the pasta and place in a warmed bowl. Add the sauce, toss well and serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Library Series, Mediterranean Cooking, by Joyce Goldstein (Time-Life Books, 1997).