Dish of the Week: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

This bold and briny sauce goes on everything from pasta to grilled tuna.
This bold and briny sauce goes on everything from pasta to grilled tuna.
Photo by Mallory Dash

From classic comfort foods to regional standouts and desserts, we'll be sharing a new recipe with you each week. See the complete list of recipes at the end of this post.

This week, we're covering an Italian classic: puttanesca sauce.

Said to have originated in Naples (likely in the mid 20th century), sugo alla puttanesca is a tomato-based sauce made with anchovies, black olives, capers, onions, and garlic in addition to tomatoes and herbs. The word is derived from the term puttana, the Italian word for "whore." So spaghetti alla puttanesca roughly translates to "spaghetti of the whore" or "whore's spaghetti." Nice.

There are plenty of entertaining folk tales about how and why the sauce was named, some saying Italian harlots would use the sauce's intense aroma to lure men from the streets; while others say married women would throw the leftover sauce out of their windows and onto the street walkers passing by, all while yelling "puttana!" Each story is more entertaining than the next.

However it originated, the bold, briny sauce has become a fiery Italian staple, as it can be used for pastas or as a flavorful topping for seafood, poultry and meat.

This recipe, slightly adapted from Debi Mazar and Gabriele Corcos, uses ripe tomatoes and to make a fresh as all hell sauce, but feel free to use a can of whole peeled tomatoes if you're in a hurry. To make it extra fiery, add in dried red chilies or throw in another pinch of red pepper flakes. Here, we serve it with spaghetti.

Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca

Ingredients serves 4 1 lb ripe tomatoes (or 14 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes)* 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 2 cloves garlic, chopped 4-6 anchovy filets, roughly chopped 2 oz pitted black olives, roughly chopped 1 tbsp salted capers, rinsed and drained Pinch crushed red pepper (or dried red chilies, crumbled) 1 lb spaghetti Freshly ground black pepper to taste 1 handful fresh parsley, chopped *Note: if you like your pasta on the saucier side, you can double the amount of tomatoes.

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Submerge the tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tomatoes. Peel the tomatoes and cut them open. Discard the seeds and cut the flesh into small cubes.* *Skip this step if using canned tomatoes.

In a large nonstick pan, heat 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and add the garlic, anchovies, olives, capers, and red pepper flakes, sautéing for about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the tomatoes (if using canned, crush the tomatoes with your hands as you add them in) and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the spaghetti about 2 minutes less than indicated on the box. Drain and add to the saucepan. On a medium high flame, toss around for a minute or two until sauce is evenly distributed. Taste and season as needed.

Finish with a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

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