One of my favorite ways to rethink tomato sauce is the classic alla puttanesca rendition, where the tomatoes are fortified with capers, olives, and pungent anchovies. This recipe from Naples, from Nancy Harmon Jenkins' exhaustive tome of Southern Italian cooking Cucina del Sole, is reminiscent of puttanesca, but with the sweet and nutty addition of raisins and pine nuts. It can be tossed with pasta or served with a piece of fish.
Wait a second, raisins? It probably doesn't come to mind first, but raisins in savory preparations can be found throughout Italy (and elsewhere in Europe, like Spain), often with pine nuts—the Roman classic with spinach is a great one. They add a burst of sweetness that makes the savory, piquant olives and capers that much more assertive.
- 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano variety
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons raisins (preferably golden), plumped in hot water, drained
- 1/2 cup black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
Drain tomatoes, reserving 1/4 cup of packing juice, and roughly chop. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over low heat until shimmering. Add garlic and cook gently until soft but not brown. Add tomatoes, raise heat to medium, and cook tomatoes until they are soft and broken down, about 15 minutes. Add a little reserved juice if necessary, but keep the sauce very thick.
In the meantime, preheat a small dry skillet over medium and toast pine nuts until golden, stirring often. Stir into the sauce along with the raisins, olive, and capers. Season sauce to taste and serve with fish or tossed with pasta.