What ingredients go into a puttanesca sauce?
Born in Naples, the largest city in the Campania region, puttanesca is a gutsy, tomato-based sauce, made with anchovies, olives, capers and plenty of garlic and dried chilli. Puttanesca sauce is typically served with spaghetti or vermicelli pasta.
Origins of pasta puttanesca
Food writers have debated the nomenclature since the dish emerged in the 60s. Although some say that the name of this dish means pasta made ‘in the manner of a prostitute’, reflecting the claim that it originated in Naples’ 'case di appuntamenti' (appointment houses) as a quick dish to throw together between other obligations, our favourite story is a little different.
In this version, a group of hungry, slightly drunk customers turned up late at night to a restaurant on the Neapolitan island of Ischia and asked the owner, who was about to close up, to make ‘una puttanata qualsiasi’, which in this context, means something like ‘make us any old thing’ – or to throw together whatever ingredients he had. In his possession were just a few tomatoes, olives and capers, but that was enough. He made do, and the result wasn’t just lapped up by his hungry guests, but soon spread around the rest of Italy too.
Spaghetti alla puttanesca has become a staple in Italian cuisine and we love how easy it is to throw together. The perfect go-to dish for lunch when working from home or the ideal way to impress your other-half on date night, this punchy, plucky pasta never fails to hit the spot.
Make our spaghetti alla puttanesca
Preparation time: 30 mins (including cooking time)
Calories per serving: 442 kcal
- 500g fresh spaghetti (see our fresh pasta guide to make your own from scratch), or 400g dried
- Olive oil
- 2-4 garlic cloves (depending on size), crushed
- ½ tsp dried chilli flakes (1tsp if you like it really hot!)
- 5 anchovy fillets (about 50g), finely chopped
- 120g black olives, pitted
- 1 x 400g tin of tomatoes (if you have fresh tomatoes too, they make a delicious addition)
- 2tbsp capers
- Generous handful fresh parsley or fresh basil to garnish, roughly chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Place about 2tbsp olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and the chilli flakes, cook for 1-2 minutes, stir regularly to prevent the garlic from sticking or burning.
- Add the anchovies, olives* and capers to the pan along with the tin of chopped tomatoes. Turn up the heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 15 minutes without the lid.
- Whilst the sauce is cooking, bring a large pan of boiling water to the boil. Salt it generously and add your fresh spaghetti. Cook for 2-3 minutes (or as the packet advises) until al dente. Test that it’s ready before draining.
- Transfer the spaghetti to the saucepan, tossing to ensure each strand is covered. Garnish with the roughly chopped parsley or basil leaves and serve immediately. Buon appetito!
*Chef's tip: If you only have green olives, these will work in a puttanesca as well!
Puttanesca wine pairing recommendation
With plenty of acidity from the tomatoes and capers, pasta alla puttanesca calls for a wine that can match this acidity and complement the strong flavours. Our choice would be Greco di Tufo — a refreshingly crisp white wine that, like pasta alla puttanseca, hails from Campania. Greco di Tufo tends to have notes of green apple, honey and toasted nuts with a distinct minerality on the finish, qualities which will allow it to cope with the punchiness of a puttanesca sauce.