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Pasta Puttanesca


I am notoriously bad at making decisions. When we eat out, I always order last, often oscillating between two or three choices to the very last second. “What do you want to do tonight?” is my least favorite question. I’m not gonna tell you that it’s different in Italian restaurants — i still take forever to make up my darn mind — but when in doubt, I unwaveringly choose pasta puttanesca. It may even be the benchmark by which I judge an italian joint. For D, that’s gnocchi; if the gnocchi is bad, the place ain’t worth it. But I’d happily forgo plump, soft gnocchi anyday for a solid bowl of homemade pasta and that delightfully salty and spicy puttanesca sauce.

Puttanesca is ideally eaten with penne or another tubular pasta that holds the sauce nicely. I happened to have cavatelli from Vace, a fantastic Italian market and pizza shop nearby, so I used that. Cavatelli are small disks of pasta that have been rolled from both ends to resemble miniature hot dog buns; when cooked, they’re unctuous and toothsome — fantastic for really biting into.


Pasta Puttanesca
serves 2-3

  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, mashed or chopped
  • 1/4 of a large onion, chopped coarsely
  • about 5 anchovies in salt (preferably) or oil (will do)
  • a healthy tsp. chili flakes, more if desired
  • 1/2 cup kalamata or other black olives, chopped (or whole if you’re an olive fiend as I am)
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. capers
  • 2 cans good canned tomatoes or 3 cups of your favorite homemade tomato sauce
  1. Add the olive oil to a heavy-bottomed pot, and saute the garlic and onion over medium heat.
  2. Add the anchovies and chili flakes and stir until the anchovy starts to break down, about two minutes.
  3. Add canned tomatoes or tomato sauce, and stir to combine. Let simmer for — oh, about two seconds, just until the flavors introduce themselves to each other.
  4. Add to fresh, just-boiled pasta, toss to combine, and eat up!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Deborah February 28, 2008,

    You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had pasta puttanesca before. I don’t know why, because it has everything in it that I love!

  • Medena February 28, 2008,

    I am same @ making decisions! I also end up eating half of my husband’s order; his choice always looks better, even though it only takes him few minutes to decide, and then he looks at us like we are so wasting his time ! 🙂

    Pasta looks awesome! Thanks for the recipe!

  • MIchael Palka February 28, 2008,

    Hi its, interesting while going through your where I found the tips for cooking pasta.It was lips smarking ..Pasta has to be the greatest contribution to world cuisine.Its famous Italian food.People usually associate pasta with noodles, but pasta actually refers to a wide assortment of flour and grain concoctions that come in a variety of shapes.

  • Chris Bird March 3, 2008,

    This looks terrific. Like “D” i generally judge an Italian restaurant by the gnocchi, but puttanesca is a close second. I love this version because it is less cooked than many. Whn using canned tomatos, I like to get whole tomatoes and break them apart, rather than the crushed ones.

    No cheese? I usually see it with a little Pecorino Romano = Parmesan is too strong IMHO.

  • rivka March 3, 2008,

    Chris, I agree — many puttanesca sauces are way overcooked. The whole point of the dish (aside from the fact that it’s delicious) is that it can be made in a flash. And I agree, pecorino romano would go very nicely with this. I had some parm around so I used a little, as you can see in the pic — but pecorino would be a better complement.

  • Maggie Ballauer March 3, 2008,

    Hi Rivka, I’m Dena’s Aunt Maggie in Michigan….Please feel free to visit with Dena and try some of your wonderful recipes in my kitchen…of course you may want to wait until our 2 feet of snow disappears and you and Dena can enjoy a ride or two in Uncle Butch’s planes….you are always welcome….bring your cookbooks!!! All your recipes sound wonderful!! Love Aunt Mag

  • rivka March 4, 2008,

    Maggie, Nice to “meet” you! I’ll definitely have to come out to Michigan and see you some time! And of course, cook up a storm 🙂