Apr 13, 2010

Spaghetti puttanesca recipe

Some may not be aware that this traditionally Roman dish originated in Napoli at the turn of the 18th century; and that puttanesca means "harlot-style."

Spaghetti puttanesca recipe
"Puttanesca" oil on canvas by Jared Gutekunst

The reason why the dish gained its name is debated. One possibility is that the epithet is a reference to the sauce's hot, spicy flavor, vibrant sexy colors and piquant aroma. Another is that the dish was offered by a Neapolitan madam to prospective customers at a low price to entice them inside her Spanish Quarter brothel.
Spaghetti puttanesca recipe
Image © duespaghetti.com

The ingredients for puttanesca are very easy to find, and are typically Mediterranean. This recipe––like many others in these pages––yields 4 servings.

400 g (14 oz) canned San Marzano tomatoes
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
A fistful of Gaeta olives (can be substitued with Kalamata or any Mediterranean-style purple olives)
A pinch of salted capers, rinsed 
2 oil-preserved anchovy fillets, cleaned, boned and rinsed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 peperoncino red pepper (or 2 for braver palates)
A small bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley
500 g (1.1 lb) spaghetti

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, sauté the garlic and peperoncino in the olive oil. When the garlic begins to tan, add the anchovy fillets mashed with a fork, these don't usually need to sautéed for a long time, since prolonged cooking rears a rather incisive marine taste. They are nonetheless fish, and a very good one for that matter, and they help achieve the sauce's necessary oomph. Remember the name of this dish? Bear that in mind. This pasta is not suited for delicate palates, but if you are freaked out by the fishy taste, omit anchovies altogether.

Stir in the canned tomatoes, and when the sauce comes to a plip! plop! boiling point, add the chopped capers (best preserved in salt, not in vinegar) and the olives whole.

Begin boiling a gallon of water for your spaghetti with a fistful of rock salt.

Thicken the sauce by cooking it over fierce heat for 6-8 minutes.

When the spaghetti are just shy of reaching al dente stage, drain and toss them in the saucepan with the prostitute sauce. Shake and stir to coat well and combine flavors. 

As a final touch, sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.

Traditionally, the sauce is served with spaghetti although it may also be used with other noodle-like dry pasta types like bucatini, linguine and vermicelli. 

No cheese please.


  1. I LOVE Puttanesca sauce and now I must make it. Now, immediately, if only to stop this drooling...

  2. It looks really great....my son has been asking me to make this, I think I will use your recipe!

  3. eleonora,

    what a wonderful recipe and great image to go along with it! i am new to your site but love what i read and look forward to trying out your recipes -


  4. mmmm....smells good lola! puttanesca always makes me think of series of unfortunate events though. smiles.

  5. One of my very favorite recipes! Thank you for reminding me of it!! I hope you are doing wonderfully!! Love, Silke

  6. That is what mine needed last week! Parsley!
    I will be coming to Rome soon and will definitely be ordering my pasta "harlot style!" I love it.
    Any suggestions for the best in Rome? I will be near the Piazza del Popolo.


  7. Anything with anchovies and black olives is a favorite of mine...sounds perfect!

  8. The "prostitute sauce"?! hahahahaha, etc. That got me laughing! ;-) Anyway, you've given me an idea for lunch!

  9. Mmmmmm.................Ok, I confess!

  10. I've made this once or twice but have cut down on the OO a bit - sacrilege I know but necessary. I love the anchovy kick.

  11. Time for lunch after reading this!

  12. ooooo hoooo I love puttanesca!
    Think I must make it for supper.


  13. When Lidia Bastianich made puttanesca sauce on her show, she said it was so called because it was quick and easy for prostitutes to make between customers.

    I wish I liked anchovies! :-P

  14. Mmmmm - I love spaghetti alla puttanesca.

  15. I'm sorry. Was food mentioned after the painting? I was distracted.

  16. And yet another story of the name is because it takes such a short amt. of time to whip up. So to speak.

    Almost always my go-to when pressed, for any sort of time. Ahem.


  17. Thank you all for your comments, I treasure each and every one. Unfortunately I can't reply to you individually, but please accept my warmest thanks. I just have a question for:

    w-r-a~ What do you mean by, "repost"? Did you pingback or link to this site? No cut and paste, please. Duplicate posting is not allowed as it invalidates search engines reading it as spam!

    Thank you!

  18. hee hee
    Something fishy about this, Eleonora!

  19. My mom made this sauce every Christmas Eve (when meat wasn't allowed). It wasn't till Italian cooking became "rediscovered" in New York that I learned that mom's Christmas Eve sauce was known to the rest of the world as "Puttanesca". She claimed no knowledge of it. One difference; mom put pignolli in her version. (Our family was originally from Naples)

  20. Wonderful comments and reponse to this post, thank you all very very much. Joe, your story is precious.
    i've heard of some Napoletani using pinoli in puttanesca, but I've never tried it myself.

    Ciao everyone, Happy Earth Day!

  21. This looks great! I can't wait to try it.

  22. This looks simply delicious and I mean the dish. This goes in my foodie top drawer. Merci!

  23. This is my favorite pasta recipe! I frequently replace the parsley with basil leaves, which I add while tossing the noodles in the sauce. Nearly beheaded my girlfriend when she asked me for cheese though... it simply does not fit the taste

  24. Ciao and thanks for your comment!
    Yes, I often omit parsley (I'm not a huge fan), and basil sounds like an interesting idea for this. Thanks!
    Cheese on the other hand deserves beheading in a public square.

  25. Love this, make it, and wonder why many who also love it don't make it. Do they really not realize how easy is it is to make at home at a fraction of the cost compared to restaurant versions. A question - how do you get the "EWWW Anchovies!" people to try it? Just plain not mention what's in it? I tend to do that but am always concerned they might have some sort allergy, and even though I want them to try it, I DON'T want them to get ill"

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. As an ex-"ewww anchovies" person myself, I think the key is success is telling a little but not giving the WHOLE truth away ;-)
      Suggest that the dish contains a "marine" secret ingredient, so if anyone is allergic to fish they should speak up, specifying however that quantities are infinitesimal, only to lend taste.
      Then AFTER your guests have had seconds and thirds, sopped up the sauce with bread and recovered from the foodgasm, you can reveal what the secret ingredient was!
      Ciao and thanks for your comment <3