The lore of Pasta alla Puttanesca, which translates as "Whore's Pasta," varies: some say it refers to the spicy, pungent aroma produced by its ingredients that enticed passing customers; others claim pragmatically that this out-of-the-larder dish was the easiest thing workers could prepare between customers, and cheap to boot. People cook it today because it has a remarkable flavor, is easy, and is made of ingredients easily kept on hand.
A soffrito of garlic, chili flakes, and anchovy sautéed in oil introduces a sharp, nutty taste to the base of the dish, which is richened with tomato sauce, then speckled with piquant capers and black olives, which give it a sweet brine. Three strong flavors are competing for attention on the palate—anchovies, olives, and capers—so restraining each is essential (so is avoiding salt altogether: there's plenty of it in the ingredients already). The taste should be vibrant, yet smooth, the epitome of balance. A tip on Chowhound recommends the rule of halves, which worked perfectly when I used it: Start with a full amount of olives (say 1/2 cup per pound of pasta) then use half the capers, and half again as many anchovies as capers. Most recipes call for a can of whole tomatoes, which is the simplest and fastest option, but a little homemade frozen tomato sauce is even better. I had some of Batali's Basic Tomato Sauce on hand, which added instant depth. Parsley can also be added for freshness, but i don't find it necessary—I like the silky texture without it.
- 1 pound spaghetti or linguini
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 6 anchovy fillets, rinsed
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, plus juices, or about 2 cups Batali's Basic Tomato Sauce
- 1/4 cup capers
- 1/2 cup black olives, pitted and chopped
Bring a large pot of salty water to boil.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet or saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the garlic, chili flakes, and anchovy fillets. Mash the fillets with a wooden spoon until they begin to disintegrate and cook until garlic softens, about 2 minutes.
Add the remaining ingredients except the pasta to the skillet, and bring to a boil then simmer. Begin cooking the pasta as the sauce thickens.
When the pasta is al dente, drain and add it to the sauce—I like to pick it up with tongs from the water to the sauce, as the starchy pasta water that clings is good for the dish. Toss the pasta well with the sauce, and serve immediately.