Why It Works
- Using a low volume of water for the pasta increases the water's starchiness, which will help to bind the sauce.
- Finishing the pasta in the sauce coats each noodle with flavor.
"Puttanesca" literally translates to "in the style of prostitutes," supposedly because the pungent aromas of garlic, anchovies, capers, and olives tossed with pasta were how Neapolitan sex workers would lead customers to their doors. This is one of those stories that seem, in the words of Douglas Adams, apocryphal or at least wildly inaccurate. That said, it's a fitting title—puttanesca packs an aromatic punch and then some.
- 6 tablespoons (90ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced or finely chopped by hand (see note)
- 4 to 6 anchovy fillets, finely chopped (1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons; 20–30ml chopped anchovy)
- Large pinch red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup capers, drained and chopped (about 2 ounces; 60g) (see note)
- 1/4 cup chopped pitted black olives (about 2 ounces; 60g) (see note)
- 1 cup (225g) whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, roughly broken up by hand (about half a 14 ounce can)
- One 5-ounce (140g) can oil-packed tuna (optional)
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 pound (225g) dried spaghetti
- Small handful minced fresh parsley leaves
- 1 ounce (30g) finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- Freshly ground black pepper
In a medium skillet, combine 4 tablespoons (60ml) oil, garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat until garlic is very lightly golden, about 5 minutes. (Adjust heat as necessary to keep it gently sizzling.) Add capers and olives and stir to combine.
Add tomatoes, stir to combine, and bring to a bare simmer. If using, stir in canned tuna, flaking it gently with a fork. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, in a pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook spaghetti until just shy of al dente, about 2 minutes less than package directions.
Using tongs, transfer pasta to sauce. Alternatively, drain pasta through a colander, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add drained pasta to sauce.
Add a few tablespoons of pasta water to sauce and set over medium-high heat to bring pasta and sauce to a vigorous simmer. Cook, stirring and shaking the pan and adding more pasta water as necessary to keep sauce loose, until pasta is perfectly al dente, 1 to 2 minutes longer. (The pasta will cook more slowly in the sauce than it did in the water.) Remove from heat and stir in remaining olive oil, parsley, and cheese. Season with salt and pepper (be generous with the pepper and scant with the salt—the dish will be plenty salty from the other ingredients). Serve immediately with more grated cheese at the table.
I don't recommend using a Microplane, grater, or garlic press in this application, as the garlic will end up burning before it can really flavor the oil. Check out our guide on how to chop capers and olives for detailed instructions.