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This pasta puttanesca recipe is a simple pantry meal that has bold savory flavors! It’s a quick weeknight dinner and uses minimal ingredients for the addictive tomato sauce.
So what does puttanesca mean? This classic dish gets its name from an indelicate Italian term that refers to gals of the night who would, according to a possibly apocryphal tale, make this hassle-free pasta in between entertaining clients after dusk in Naples. The more you know!
Setting aside the colorful and amusing history, spaghetti alla puttanesca actually does taste like a fancy meal, but it’s so simple that you’ll make it again and again! It’s ready in just 30 minutes and packs in sensational flavor.
Ingredients you’ll need
- Pasta – this recipe is traditionally served with spaghetti, but you can use any long pasta shape
- Olive oil – for sautéing and is the base of the sauce
- Garlic – a classic tasty aromatic
- Red pepper flakes – gives a little kick to the sauce. The quantity doesn’t make it super spicy, but halve or omit them if you’re sensitive to spice.
- Anchovies – this recipe doesn’t taste like fish, so don’t worry! I bought a can of them packed in oil from the canned fish section of my grocery store. I occasionally find them in the refrigerated section.
- Tomatoes – we’re using a can of whole plum tomatoes. Try to find San Marzano tomatoes since they’re made in Italy and taste better, but you can sub in San Marzano “style” instead. Sub for crushed if needed.
- Capers – the tangy, briny capers infuses even more flavor
- Olives – I prefer using Kalamata olives, but any variety of black olives work too
- Pasta puttanesca will only be as good as the ingredients you use. Buying good-quality ingredients (made in Italy if possible) ensures you’ll achieve the rich, incredible flavors of the sauce as intended!
How to make pasta puttanesca
This is an overview with step-by-step photos. Full ingredients & instructions are in the recipe card below.
Cook the spaghetti until al dente. Add the canned whole tomatoes to a bowl, and crush them using your hands or a fork. Set aside, and add the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies to a skillet over medium heat, cooking for 3-4 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, capers, and olives. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened, stirring occasionally. Drain the pasta, add to the skillet, season with salt & pepper, and toss!
- Anchovies impart a salty savory “umami” quality that gives the sauce extra flavor rather than being fishy. If you’re really not a fan of anchovies, you may be able to pick up on the taste, however. I would give this classic a try even if you’re not a huge fan of them. You might just love it! Add fewer anchovies to start with if you’re concerned.
- Once you’ve made this recipe once, you can easily tweak it if needed, e.g. add more olives, anchovies, or red pepper flakes.
- If the sauce is tasting a bit acidic from the tomatoes, simply add a pinch of sugar.
- If you happen to have some fresh herbs besides the parsley (like basil or oregano), chop ’em up and throw them in!
- I like to use a splatter guard for easy clean-up.
Leftovers and storage
- Leftover sauce will keep for a few days in the fridge in an airtight container or can be frozen for up to 3 months.
- Reheat in a saucepan over low heat until warmed through. If possible, I’d boil fresh pasta for it.
Do you have any questions about this recipe? Did you make it? Let me know in the comments below!
Easy Pasta Puttanesca
- 8 ounces uncooked pasta I used spaghetti
- 1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes (with juices) see note
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste
- 4-5 anchovy fillets cut into small pieces
- 2-3 tablespoons capers drained
- 1/2 cup Kalamata olives pitted and halved
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Chopped fresh parsley optional, to taste
- Boil a large salted pot of water for the pasta and cook it al dente according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, add the canned tomatoes to a bowl and crush them (it's easiest to do this using your hands, but you could also use a fork).
- Add the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies to a skillet over medium heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes (watch the garlic doesn't burn).
- Stir in the tomatoes, capers, and olives. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and the flavors meld.
- Season with salt & pepper as needed. Toss with the drained pasta (add a splash of the hot pasta water prior to draining if you wish to thin the sauce), and garnish with parsley if desired.
- I recommend San Marzano plum tomatoes for best flavor. You may swap the whole canned tomatoes with crushed tomatoes if you prefer.
- The garlic, anchovy, and olive quantities are quite flexible. If you want bolder flavor, add more of each. Measure with your heart!
- Feel free to add in more chopped fresh herbs such as basil or oregano.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
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