You may have heard of pasta puttanesca, or “whore pasta”, as it is so problematically translated, with its legendary history as a brothel staple that served as both an aphrodisiac and a repairer. The truth is, no one knows precisely why puttanesca is so named, just like no one knows exactly how factual a folk tale is.
When I’m simmering puttanesca sauce, however, I’m pretty sure I know: my kitchen gives off a steamy, moist haze around the house, which smells of garlic, sure, but there’s a funk lurking. a little lower in the air. fecundity; a salty and fertile funk, made of fermentation and brine, which feels as much physically as it feels. Puttanesca, quite simply, smacks of messy, rambunctious sex. Italian women have always been stereotyped as being too loud, too passionate, too sensitive to our own appetites. I used to reject those stereotypes, but as I get older, I embrace them. And, when I make puttanesca sauce, I embody them, opening my windows for the whole neighborhood to know.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: about 30 minutes
- 2 tbsp olive oil (use some of the oil from the anchovies but not all 2 tbsp)
- 4-6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or minced
- 4-6 anchovy fillets in oil
- 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes
- 1/2 cup pitted oil-dried Kalamata, Gaeta, or black olives
- 2 tablespoons of capers
- crushed red pepper flakes to taste
- fresh italian parsley
- black pepper
Purchase notes: It doesn’t matter what brand of anchovies, olives or capers you use; they don’t have to be anything fancy. There are no right or wrong answers for anything in this sauce except the tomatoes. They must be whole. Diced, crushed, pureed, or otherwise modified tomatoes are too acidic for this sauce, and they don’t provide the rustic, chunky texture that is integral to puttanesca. If you’ve only had adulterated tomatoes before, I’ve heard that a pinch of baking soda can neutralize the acid, and I can attest that a finely grated small to medium carrot added early can improve this too – although it adds a sweetness that some might not prefer.
Thinly slice or chop the garlic; Nothing special. No need to do anything to the anchovies; they will decompose on heating. Chop the olives coarsely, in half or at least the same way, so that they remain substantial but can be distributed relatively evenly in the sauce. Everyone always says to rinse the capers, but I never do; I just make sure not to put too much brine in my spoons, and it works well.
Add oil, garlic, crushed red pepper and anchovies in a large skillet and reheat slowly over low heat, stirring occasionally to incorporate the anchovies into the oil as they break down . When everything is tender and gloriously stinky, about 5-7 minutes, open your can of tomatoes and place it right next to the pan.
Take every tomato from the box and mash it with your hands into the pan, one at a time. Then, also pour the juice from the can into the pan. Add a few twists of black pepper to the tomato mixture, then increase the heat to medium-high. When the sauce begins to bubble aggressively, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until it thickens visibly, about 10 minutes. Add your olives and capers, stir and continue to simmer until the sauce is the consistency you like.
If you serve this over pasta, heavily salt your pasta water before cooking and reserve about ¼ cup of salted pasta water – after cooking, when the water has absorbed pasta starch – into your sauce towards the end cooking time. If you are not serving it with pasta, add salt when you add black pepper at the start of cooking. If you do not yet know how you are going to serve it, salt it whenever you want; Just proceed with caution, as the ingredients themselves are quite salty.
While this sauce is delicious over pasta in its conventional form, it’s also a brilliant base for other fishy stuff; add raw shrimp, salmon or other fish while the sauce cooks, or toss in canned tuna for more substance and strength. It also supports all kinds of vegetables, especially cauliflower, which is also easily cooked in the sauce. I once braised a pork shoulder in a puttanesca sauce, and served it over polenta, and my friends say they still dream about it; I imagine braising an old baseball glove in this stuff would also be magical.