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Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is the ultimate pantry pasta. Read on to see discover how we make this flavorful pasta dish and why we love it so much.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with Fork on Blue Placemat

We love Spaghetti alla Puttanesca in all it’s salty, saucy, briny, umami-rich glory. Mindi especially loves the dish and would be happy to eat it every day of the week. Okay, maybe not every day, but you get the picture.

While we can cook the classic Mediterranean pasta almost anywhere in the world, it’s especially easy in our Portuguese home. When we open our pantry, Puttanesca sauce is just a ‘chop’, skip and a jump away from the stove.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca in Pasta Bowl
Spaghetti all Puttanesca isn’t just an ultimate pantry pasta. It’s also one of the most flavorful pastas you can make at home.

In Lisbon, great anchovies and salted capers are available at our local Spanish ‘superstore.’ Olives are plentiful at neighborhood markets and our proximity to Italy makes Italian tomato products like passata cheap and convenient to use.

Pro Tip
Don’t despair if you don’t live in Europe and want to make Pasta Puttanesca. All of the necessary ingredients are available and abundant around the world.

In its essence, Pasta Puttanesca is great because of its timeless pairing of sweet, acidic tomatoes with salty capers and anchovies. These umami-rich elements combine to create a grand Italian chorus of flavor.

Pasta Puttanesca: Born in Naples with Anchovy as the Star of the Show

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with Capers on Top
Anchovies may be star when it comes to Pasta Puttanesca but capers and olives play important roles.

The best Italian pasta dishes don’t have clear origin stories. This is the case with the four great pastas in Rome and it’s also the case with Puttanesca. Sure, there are some legends about Naples, prostitutes and a restaurant owner who was desperate to feed a few people with ingredients he had on hand, but nobody knows for sure.

The elements of the story from Naples ring true with us. We love the rough and ready city and consider Neapolitan food to be some of the best in Italy. After visiting the seaside city a number of times, we understand the importance of the mighty yet tiny anchovy in Neapolitan cuisine.

Campagnola Pizza over Sidewalk at Pizzeria Da Attilio in Naples
We’ve ordered anchovies on pizzas in Naples more than a few times and they’ve always been wonderful. This pie at Pizzeria da Attilio was particularly tasty. Note that it shares many, if not all, of the ingredients in Pasta Puttanesca.

To be honest, the best anchovies found in Naples are unique to the region and are (most likely) impossible to find anywhere outside the boot. We haven’t found plump, funky, salted beauties called “acciughe” in our Lisbon headquarters. But that’s okay.

Standard oil-packed anchovy filets provide more than enough deep, fishy flavor for this dish to work. When combined with sweet acidic tomatoes, their flavors are pure magic both on pizza and in Puttanesca pasta sauce.

Spaghetti Puttanesca Ingredients

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Ingredients
We had all of these ingredients in our pantry. We also had olive oil (not pictured) and red chili peppers (also not pictured). Winning!

The beauty of Pasta Puttanesca is that you don’t need any fresh ingredients besides garlic. These are the recipe’s only required ingredients:

  • Anchovies
  • Capers
  • Chili Peppers or Italian Chili Flake
  • Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Olives
  • Passata or Whole Canned Tomatoes
  • Spaghetti
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Mise en Place
The ingredients look like this before you put them into the frying pan.

You most likely have everything in your pantry. Otherwise, you can buy any missing ingredients at your local market.

Capers

Capers in Salt
We love salt-packed capers for this recipe and in life.

Like most things in the kitchen, what you put into Puttanesca directly impacts what you’ll get out. For this recipe, we use capers packed in salt instead of brine. They’re bigger and impart a more verdant, vegetal flavor.

You’ll want to rinse the capers thoroughly to remove excess salt. This applies whether you used brined or salt-packed capers.

Click here to order salt-packed capers from Amazon if you can’t find them where you live.

Anchovies

Anchovy Filets in Oil
Spanish anchovy fillets work just fine in this Italian recipe.

We’re lucky to have access to high-quality Spanish anchovies where we live. Regardless of where you live, we suggest that you source imported Spanish or Italian anchovy filets if you can find them.

In most cases, you should be able to find good, umami rich anchovies at specialty shops. If not, you can order them online.

Click here to order Spanish anchovy fillets from Amazon if you can’t find them at a local specialty shop.

Olives

Green Olives
Since great olives are easy to find, you can get creative with your olive choice.

While some Pasta Puttanesca recipes specifically call for black, oil-cured olives, we say use what you have and what you like. We recently used large green Portuguese olives that we had originally slated for dirty martinis. We smashed them to remove the pits and the result was just great.

Pro Tip
We recommend using olives with a firm flesh and briny, not winey, flavor if you choose not to use oil-cured olives.

Tomato Passata

Cirio Passata Rustica
Cirio Passata Rustica, made in Italy, is our preferred brand of passata. It’s an excellent product and lets us instantly cook up a world class pasta meal in a jiff.

We first discovered the versatily of Ciro Passata Rustica when we lived in Naples for a month. Passata literally flew off off the shelves with Nonnas elbowing each other for bottles, often buying two or three at a time.

For the unfamiliar, passata is essentially unseasoned tomato purée that’s strained of seeds. Some passatas are smooth while others like Ciro Passata Rustica are chunky and ‘rustic’. You’ll typically find passata in glass bottles and lined paper cartons.

Pro Tip
Passata’s packaging doesn’t impart any metallic flavors that you may find in canned tomatoes. Tests have shown otherwise but we still prefer glass jars over metal cans.

Passata vs Canned Tomatoes
If you can’t find passata, you can use canned whole tomatoes in this recipe instead.

So why do we like passata so much? First of all, it’s easy to use. We can pour a third of a bottle of passata over sautéed onions and garlic to create an instant sauce.

Since we live in Europe, we can buy Ciro Passata Rustica for excellent prices, often for under the equivalent of $2 a bottle or less. Also, glass resealable containers make passata easy to store and use.

Don’t give up if you don’t have easy access to passata. As an alternative, you can use whole canned tomatoes and mash them with your hands or a potato masher. But, with passata becoming more widely available, we highly recommend passata if you can find it and it’s affordable.

Click here to buy a jar of Passata from Amazon if you can’t find it locally.

Pasta

Spaghetti made with bronze dyes
Bronzed dyed spaghetti, with its rough dry surface, is the gold standard of dry pasta when it comes to making Pasta Puttanesca.

We like to splurge on our pasta and we suggest you do the same. Better pastas are produced using bronze dyes which leave a rougher surface on the product. The benefits are twofold:

  1. This type of pasta imparts more starch into the pasta water which creates pasta sauce that’s richer and more viscous.
  2. Sauce clings better to the rougher surface.

Click here to buy imported Italian spaghetti made with bronze dyes if you want to splurge too.

How to Make Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with Fork
You don’t have to be a pasta pro to make Spaghetti alla Puttanesca at home.

Executing this dish is simple.

While we wouldn’t call our Spaghetti Passata recipe a quick cook, it’s as easy as chopping ingredients, doing a quick sauté and letting the dish cook for 45 minutes to an hour.

True Story
We were caught up in a conversation with friends while our Puttanesca sauce was on the stove. The extra simmering time let the intense flavors meld and mellow beautifully.

Crushing a Green Olive
Smashing the olives is the second most fun part of making Spaghetti alla Puttanesca. (The most fun part is eating the finished dish.)

The preparation for our Spaghetti alla Puttanesca recipe is easy to accomplish with a cutting board and chef’s knife.

The first step is to remove olive pits and smash the olives. You can use the side of your knife as a smashing tool.

Chopping Anchovies
We quickly chopped the anchovies.

You’ll next use the knife to chop the anchovies, garlic and olives. You should chop the anchovies medium coarse.

Crushed Green Olive
We also quickly chopped the olives after we removed the pits.

You’ll also want to chop the olives medium coarse. The goal is to achieve evidence of olive in every bite of the sauce. However, you can chop finer if you prefer.

Chopping Garlic
Then we quickly chopped the garlic. Do you notice a trend here?

The garlic is a different story. Chop the garlic fine instead of medium coarse. However, you still want a slightly rustic texture with the garlic.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Mise en Place with Knife
After you’re done chopping, it’s time to move to the stove.

Place a 12″ frying pan over a medium fire. Add a quarter cup of olive oil to the pan when it becomes hot.

Garlic in Pan
Don’t let the garlic burn. You’ll want it to turn slightly brown as pictured here.

Once the oil is heated (approximately 20 seconds), add the garlic and cook until it browns slightly.

Pro Tip
While you don’t want to burn the garlic, you can let it get a little darker than normal since the slightly bitter, caramelized flavor of the garlic will mellow as the sauce cooks.

Cooking Garlic
Expect your kitchen to smell good once you add the anchovies, chili pepper, olives and capers to the pot.

Add the anchovies, chili pepper, olives and capers which, along with the garlic, will infuse their flavors into the olive oil. After about three minutes, pour in the passata.

Pouring Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Sauce
We like to use passata because it’s easy. We basically dumped this passata right into the pan.

Wash out any tomato residue from the bowl with about a 1 cup of water.

Click here to buy the same All Clad pan that we use in our recipe. We swear by this pan.

Making Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
We washed our passata residue with water to avoid leaving any in the bowl. That’s how much we love passata.

Once you’ve stirred in the tomatoes you can turn the fire on low. You can let the sauce cook at a steady simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. Be sure to add water if the sauce gets too thick to prevent burning.

When you feel the sauce is done, boil 4 to 5 quarts of water in a saucepan or sauté pan large enough fit the spaghetti. Drop the pasta in the pan.

Pro Tip
If you’re using a narrower saucepan, you may need to bend the spaghetti into the pan in order to submerge it all in the boiling water.

Ladling Water into Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Ladling starchy pasta water into the sauce is one of the final steps.

About 3 minutes before the pasta is ready, turn the fire under the sauce to medium high. One minute before the pasta is done, spoon about 2 ladlefuls of the pasta water into the sauce. Then, using tongs, move the finished pasta to the saucepot.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Sauce with Streak
Seeing the bottom of the pan made us happy since this meant it was almost time to eat.

The pasta and sauce will be ready once you can see the bottom of the pot when you drag a wooden spoon. All that’s left to do is serve the pasta in bowls and enjoy.

You don’t even need to add salt or grated cheese. However, we won’t blame you if you pour some wine. In fact, we encourage it.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Recipe

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with Fork
You’ll want to make Spaghetti alla Puttanesca again and again once you follow our recipe. It’s a keeper.
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with Capers on Top

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Yield: 2
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is the ultimate pantry pasta. Once you make this recipe once, you'll want to make it again and again.

Ingredients

  • 7.5 oz. passata OR 1/2 of a 15-oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes (mashed)
  • 1/4 C capers, rinsed to remove excess salt
  • 1/2 C whole olives OR 1/4 C pitted olives, chopped course
  • 5 anchovy fillets, chopped medium fine
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped medium fine
  • 1 small red chili pepper OR 1/8 t Italian pepper flake
  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1/2 lb spaghetti
  • black pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat a 12" saute or fry pan to medium high and add olive oil.
  2. Once the olive oil is heated (It should shimmer a little.) add the garlic and chili pepper. Cook until the garlic just starts to brown.
  3. Add the anchovies, capers and olives to the pan and sauté them for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato passata along with about a cup of water. If you've poured the passata into a bowl, you can use the water to wash any tomato residue from the bowl.
  5. Bring the mixture to a steady simmer. Turn the heat to low.
  6. Simmer the sauce for 45 minutes to an hour. Add more water if the sauce becomes too thick or it will begin to burn. Make sure the sauce is thick when you're ready to finish the dish.
  7. Boil 4 to 5 cups of water in a saucepan or 12" skillet.
  8. Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the box.
  9. One minute before the spaghetti is done, add one to two ladlefuls of water from the pasta pot to the sauce.
  10. Using tongs, move the pasta from the pasta pot to the frying pan.
  11. Cook pasta and sauce until thick. You should see bottom of the frying pan when you run a wooden spoon across it.
  12. Serve in medium bowls. Enjoy!!

Notes

  • If you serve this recipe as a starter, it should serve 4 people.
  • You can double this recipe to serve 4 main dishes.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 2 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 517Total Fat: 34gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 28gCholesterol: 9mgSodium: 1154mgCarbohydrates: 44gFiber: 5gSugar: 3gProtein: 11g

Nutrition Disclosure: We used an online calculator to calculate this information. Though 2foodtrippers.com has attempted to secure accurate data, these nutritional figures are estimates.

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About the Authors

Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Disclosure

We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

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