When it comes to classic Italian pasta recipes, Pasta Puttanesca was one of the most requested pasta sauces I made during my career as a chef.
The simplicity of the recipe creates a complex flavor profile that helps you understand how this timeless classic has become a staple in Italian households around the world.
What is Pasta Puttanesca?
Pasta Puttanesca is a spicy tomato-based classic Italian dish that can be made easily with pantry staples. Canned tomatoes, capers, anchovies, olives. garlic and spices, create a bright flavorful sauce that will take your taste buds on a culinary adventure!
Why is it called Pasta Puttanesca?
If you’ve never heard of Pasta Puttanesca, (aka spaghetti alla puttanesca) its humble beginnings are linked to the prostitutes of Italy during world war II. Puttanesca roughly translates to “lady of the night” which offers credence to this story, but others point to a different reason, how this pungent, aromatic sauce got its name.
But no matter how the name came about, it’s a delicious quick dinner that can be on your dinner table faster than ordering takeout.
One of my other favorite classic pasta recipes is Cacio e Pepe.
What ingredients are in Pasta Puttanesca?
Let’s start by gathering the ingredients we need to make Macaroni Salad. In Chef Speak, this is called the “Mise en Place,” which translates to “Everything in its Place.”
Not only does setting up your ingredients ahead of time speed up the cooking process, it also helps ensure you have everything you need to make the dish.
Do I have to use anchovies to make pasta puttanesca?
Well, it’s kind of what makes the pasta sauce what it is. But that being said, if you have an aversion to anchovies, don’t use them. My simple rule is to cook with what you like to eat. After all, this is your dinner, so adapt the pasta recipe to your tastes.
Can I add green olives to this dish?
Of course, you can. Traditionally it’s made with Kalamata olives (even though their origin is Greek), but any dry-cured or brined black olive will work.
How do I make pasta puttanesca?
Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the chopped garlic, anchovy paste and chili flakes to the pan. Saute for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Crush the tomatoes by hand then add them to the pan along with the salt and black pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
After allowing the sauce to cook, add the tomato paste, olives and capers to the pan. Turn the heat down and let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta al dente in salted boiling water according to package directions.
Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the basil, parsley and lemon zest. Season again with salt and pepper to taste as needed.
The finished pasta sauce is a thing of beauty. Typically this sauce is cooked fairly quickly, but feel free to allow it to simmer for up to an hour. It will make the sauce even more flavorful.
Another quick and easy weeknight pasta dish is my Pasta Aglio Olio with Broccoli Rabe.
Chef Dennis Tip:
*If the sauce starts to get too thick, add a little of the pasta water to the sauce.
Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce. Garnish the dish with chopped parsley, lemon zest and chili flakes.
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca has always been one of my favorite pasta recipes. Wouldn’t it make a delicious weeknight dinner?
The star of a puttanesca sauce is the anchovies, that’s what adds the distinct flavor to the sauce. Canned tomatoes, capers, olives and garlic are the other pantry staples used to make this pasta recipe.
Although the sauce contains anchovies, it doesn’t have a fishy taste. The anchovies have been brined in salt for months which gives the dish a savory flavor, with a touch of sweetness and spice from the other ingredients.
The literal translation is “in the style of the whore”. Puttanesca is derived from the word Puttana, which means whore in Italian.
This super easy and quick. I’ve made it a few times. I tweaked it to my personal preference. I would highly recommend this to anyone!
This was fantastic! Thanks for a great recipe! Will definitely be making again soon. And good reviews from all my dinner guests!
Chef Dennis Littley
Happy to hear it Tyler! I hope you find more recipes on my website to try
Hello chef Dennis! This recipe looks incredible and I want to make it over the weekend. I’m a little confused though because the recipe only calls for one tablespoon of tomato paste yet it’s listed to add in both steps 2 and 3. Can you please clarify? Thank you!
Chef Dennis Littley
Thanks for the heads up on that Jennifer, it was a typo and the tomato paste is added in step 3.
Hope you enjoy the sauce!
Thank you so much! I’m making this tomorrow and I know it will be a big hit! Pictures to follow! Thanks again!
I’ve always enjoyed the bright and pungent flavors of pasta puttanesca. The anchovy paste is essential: it doesn’t taste like anchovies, instead it adds a significant degree of umami. Including the bit of lemon zest is a brilliant element that I hadn’t tried until recently. The hint of lemon brightens the complex flavor profile.
This pasta is so delicious!! My family loved it
Looks so good!
This was so easy to make and those flavours are awesome! I was skeptical of the anchovy but it blended right in end I’m glad I used it. Thanks for this one.
Everyone really enjoyed this pasta dish, it was absolutely delicious and full of flavor!
These flavors were so authentic and delicious! Everyone really enjoyed this pasta dish
I made this for dinner today and it was amazing!! Loved all the flavors.
What a great recipe, had it for a dinner party and everyone loved it.
Loved this sauce so easy and so delicious, didn’t have anchovy paste so I used anchovies from a jar. Thanks chef Dennis
Such a flavorful recipe, my whole family loved it!
This is definitely five-star restaurant quality! The ingredients are so simple, but they dish turns out so flavorful. Loved it for a little at-home date night action!
This was the perfect weeknight dinner! We loved the flavors.
Chef, this was totally amazing!!! Perfection. So happy I made this and I’ve saved it to my favourites in Pinterest. Only thing I did different was to use the olive oil from the jar the anchovies (didn’t use paste since they last in the jar forever in the fridge) came instead of wasting it. Bonus, more anchovy flavour too!