Pasta alla Puttanesca is one of the quickest pasta dishes there is with an interesting history.
Though its name means “whore’s pasta”, its story has nothing to do with prostitution.
Legend has it that one night in the fifties, a group of customers strolled into a restaurant in Italy demanding something to eat. As it was late, the chef and owner sheepishly told them that he was low on ingredients and couldn’t serve them anything. As they were hungry, the group said to serve them any “garbage” he had. The chef only had a few tomatoes, a couple of olives and some capers, so he threw them together to make spaghetti sauce.
The dish has been a classic ever since.
This dish takes about five minutes longer to make than it does to boil pasta and is my go-to meal when I’m either feeling lazy or in a rush. Packed with tomatoes, capers, garlic, olives, and anchovies, it’s not for everyone, but for those unafraid of strong flavors, you MUST try this! One bite and you’ll never ask whether great food can be made quickly ever again.
Here’s How You Do It
Difficulty Level: Easy
Prep and cook time: 15 -20 Minutes
Serves 2 to 4
Half a Box of Pasta – For this photo, I used short pasta, but if you want the dish to cook extra fast, angel hair or vermicelli are great choices.
1 Teaspoon of Salt
3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and finely chopped
4 Anchovy Fillets, finely chopped OR 1 Tablespoon of Anchovy Paste – Available in the fish section of grocery stores
6 or 7 Pitted Black Olives, finely chopped – Canned or jarred and packed in liquid is fine
2 Tablespoons of Capers – Available in the same section of the grocery store as the pickles
3 Heaping Tablespoons of Tomato Paste
2 Tablespoons of Prepared Basil Pesto
4 Sundried Tomatoes packed in Oil, Thinly Sliced (Optional) – Available with the pasta sauces in the grocery store, these add an extra rich tomato flavor and chewiness, but they’re not necessary.
Zest of 1 Lemon (Optional)
½ Teaspoon of Dried, Crushed Chilies (Optional)
1 Pot to Boil the Pasta
1 Ladle or Other Scooping Spoon
Measuring Cups and Spoons
1 Regular Bowl
1 Regular Spoon
1 Knife and Cutting Board
1 Wooden Spoon
1 Pair of Tongs
Fill your pot with water and add the teaspoon of salt, stirring so the salt is dissolved. Though experts say you have to boil the pasta in tons of water, you don’t. Enough water to fully submerge the dry pasta is enough.
Put the heat on high.
When the water is boiling, dump in your pasta and stir it all to fully submerge it. The cook time of the pasta will depend entirely on the type and your preference of doneness. Short, thick pasta like rotini will take longer than thin varieties like cappellini (angel hair), spaghettini, and vermicelli, especially if you prefer your pasta mushier than al dente.
While the pasta is boiling, chop up the anchovies, olives, garlic, capers, and sundried tomatoes, if using.
Put the tomato paste in a bowl. The minute the pasta water gets cloudy – this is from the starch in the pasta – scoop out about a cup of the water using your ladle and mix it with the tomato paste using your trusty regular spoon. This will not only thin the paste a little, but the starch will allow the sauce to stick to the pasta.
Drain your pasta in the strainer but DO NOT RINSE IT, and start your sauce.
In the same pot used to boil the pasta on medium high heat, add your olive oil.
The second the oil slides easily around in the pot, add your garlic, capers, anchovies, olives, pesto, and if using, lemon zest, sundried tomatoes, and chilies and stir it all with a wooden spoon.
The SECOND you start really smelling the ingredients in the pot, add the tomato paste and pasta water mixture.
Stir with a wooden spoon until it all starts to bubble.
Turn the heat to low and add the pasta back into the pot.
Toss everything together with a pair of tongs, making sure the pasta is fully coated.
Turn your stove off and serve!
-Samantha R. Gold
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