Some may not be aware that this traditionally Roman dish originated in Napoli at the turn of the (18th) century; and that alla Puttanesca means “harlot-style.”
"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.
Image © closetcooking
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 gr (14 oz) can of San Marzano (Roma) tomatoes
5 tablespoons 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 flatleaf Italian parsley
500 gr (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 the 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.