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This dish originated in Naples, Italy.  It's one of the greatest ways to use up ripe, fragrant, nutritious tomatoes.  A garden-fresh pasta treat, it's not quite as heavy and filling as classic Pasta Primavera.   The sauce is only cooked long enough to heat through and develop the flavors, making it a quick meal.  

Opinions differ as to the explanation for it's scandalous name.  The most elaborate is that this pasta was traditionally served in the "massage parlors" that abounded in Naples, and was an economical, easy and fast sauce to make and serve to the men, keeping them happy and occupied while they waited their turn.  Another explanation is that the piquant aroma served as advertising, attracting clients in off the street.  Yet  another and most common theory is that the name refers to the hot, spicy, frisky flavor and smell.  What does the name actually mean?  You do have an Italian-English dictionary, right?  No, you don't?  Oh, well......

Pasta Puttanesca

5 cups very ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 lb. linguine  (Note #1)
2 Tablespoons olive oil  
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 medium red or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 to 4 anchovies (Optional:  Note #2)
2 to 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (or minced)
red pepper flakes
(from a pinch to 1 tsp or more)
1/3 cup black olives, chopped or sliced
1-1/2 Tablespoons capers, drained
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, coarsely chopped, OR 2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/3 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped  (Note #3)
2 to 4 Tablespoons tomato paste
salt to taste

Place chopped tomatoes in a colander to drain while you cook the pasta and start the sauce.

Heat olive oil in a stainless steel or non-stick pan over medium heat.  Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté, stirring or tossing frequently until onion is transparent but not browned.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes; continue to sauté for another minute or two.  (Note #4)   Add anchovies if you're using them, and mash them fine with the back of a spoon.  

Add the well-drained tomatoes and cook, stirring, until heated through.  Add the olives, capers, herbs and tomato paste.  Continue to stir until very hot to give time for the flavors to mix and develop.   Taste and salt if necessary.

Mix with drained pasta.  May be served with Parmesan or Romano cheese.  (Note # 5)  


Note #1:   This dish is frequently made with a hearty pasta such as linguine, penne, radiattore or rotini.  It can also be made with spaghetti, of course.

Note #2:  While meatless, the classic version calls for anchovies or anchovy paste, and some recipes even use canned tuna or flaked, fresh or salted cooked fish.   

Note #3:  If you haven't any Italian parsley, curly parsley will do although the flavor isn't as intense.  Or use a tablespoon of dried parsley in a pinch. 

Note #4:  Don't brown the garlic!  It will turn bitter.

Note #5:   If anchovies are omitted, I would recommend tossing 1/4 to 1/3 cup of grated or shredded Parmesan cheese with the pasta and sauce.   Otherwise you can offer it optionally as a topping.  Some sources insist that cheese was not an original ingredient of this dish at all!   But we serve our own taste buds, not history's, right?

Additional recipe for Pasta Puttanesca from Recipe Source (Soar)

The Sneaky Kitchen
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