Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

pronounced: put-tah-NEH-ska
Spaghetti with olives, capers and anchovies.
makes about 4 servings

Spaghetti alla puttanesca (whore's spaghetti) is a spicy, tangy, somewhat salty Italian pasta dish that culinary experts regard as modern and reflects the bounty of the market rather than the garden. The ingredients are inexpensive, easy to find and typically Mediterranean. Italians refer to the sauce as sugo alla puttanesca.
To understand how this sauce came to get its name, one must consider the 1950s when brothels in Italy were state owned. They were known as case chiuse or 'closed houses' because the shutters had to be kept permanently closed to avoid offending the sensibilities of neighbors or innocent passersby. Conscientious Italian housewives usually shop at the local market every day to buy fresh food, but these "civil servants" were only allowed one day per week for shopping, and their time was valuable. Their specialty became a sauce made quickly from odds and ends in the larder.

  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • Olive oil (you can use oil from anchovies)
  • 3-4 anchovies in olive oil
  • 2-3 tsp capers, or to taste
  • 2 dozen or more black olives (Gaeta, kalamata or oil cured work great)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced or minced
  • Crushed red pepper or cayenne, to taste
  • 1 can whole San Marzano plum peeled tomatoes (or just use crushed)
  • Salt, if needed
  • Fresh cracked pepper, to taste
  • Some chopped italian flat-leaf parsley

1. bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add pasta.
2. In a pan add olive oil and anchovies, stir until dissolved.
3. Add garlic, red pepper, capers, olives and cook for a couple of minutes.
4. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as they cook along, if using whole.
5. Simmer until sauce is thickened, a few minutes.
6. Add 3-4 tbsp chopped parsley
7. Serve on well drained pasta.
7. Top with some freshly grated parmigiano or pecorino.


Add shrimp, scallops, calamari, mussels or other seafood.
Add pinenuts and golden raisins.
Use pancetta bacon or prosciutto in place of the anchovies.
Vegans: omit anchovies and top with toasted bread crumbs.
A few drops of Worcestershire sauce also goes well (it is flavored with anchovies)
Makes a  great sauce for baked fish or chicken.

Copyleft (2010) The Budget Gourmet

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