There Is Almost Nothing As Good As This Pasta Sauce

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You've had a long day at work and just want to space out in front of Netflix for awhile before slipping into bed, but you're hungry. While you weigh the possibility of cooking something, the ease of your preferred food delivery app feels mighty tempting. But, before you spend $20 on just one dinner, stop and make yourself a pasta puttanesca instead. You can whip up this hearty, satisfying dish with hardly any chopping or cooking in just 20 minutes.

Pasta puttanesca is a Southern Italian dish, and it basically brings together spaghetti with anchovy paste, capers, olives, and a little tomato. The word “puttanesca” is
derived from the Italian for “whore.” Personally, I find myself smiling a
little bit when I’m making the sauce at 11 p.m. in my undies, sipping a cold glass of white wine, thinking that I’m
making whore’s pasta. Maybe we could say that the contemporary version of the
dish is the working girl’s pasta. I asked Keith Beavers, owner of the NYC Italian restaurant In Vino, to help me figure out where the name came from. He told me, "It’s said to be named that way because the ladies of the night would get off very late, and they only had a few ingredients in their kitchen, so they threw together whatever they could find." (Olives, capers, anchovies, and tomatoes are all commonly found in Southern Italian pantries.)

Photo credit: Alex Brook Lynn.

I started
cooking puttanesca recently
because I moved into an apartment with a teeny-tiny kitchen, which isn’t ideal
for more elaborate dishes. It's quickly become my weeknight go-to,
and once you’ve made it you won’t really need a recipe because it’s that easy. Here's my
personal rendition of the classic, which I recommend having with a glass of dry white wine from Southern Italy. Feeling into red? Try aglianico, made from one
of the region's prettiest and earthiest grapes, and also a good value.

Pasta Puttanesca
Serves one working girl  

1 bag spaghetti or bucatini
3-4 tbsp olive oil
2-3 tbsp anchovy paste
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
Black olives without pits, roughly chopped
1 little jar anchovies (optional but recommended)
Red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Boil a large pot of salted water for the pasta. 

2. As the water is coming to a boil, start the sauce by heating up olive oil in a non-stick saucepan or a cast
iron skillet. When the oil is hot, add the capers and olives. Stir them for one
minute with a wooden spoon. 

3. Add in the anchovy paste and tomato paste one after the
other, and whisk it all together so the ingredients combine. If you're using
anchovies, add them here. Mix well to combine everything.

4. When the water boils, add however much pasta you want for
yourself (1/3 of the package is good in proportion to the sauce). Now, this is
very important: You need to make sure not to overcook the pasta, because you’re
going to let it finish cooking in the sauce. So, if the package says 11
minutes, give it only 9. It's worth setting a timer for this one.

5. Use tongs to lift the pasta out of the water — don’t drain
the liquid yet — letting the pasta air-dry for a moment, before dropping it
directly into the sauce. Cover the pan and let the pasta fry in the sauce for
one minute. Uncover, add about half a cup of the pasta water, stir, and cover again. 

6. Finally, sprinkle red pepper flakes, twirl it all into a
pretty pile on your plate, and enjoy!       

More from Food & Drinks

R29 Original Series