Pasta Puttanesca

I wish I could remember the first time I had pasta puttanesca. Sometime after I fell in love with anchovies, but before I fell in love with olives. For years it was a dish that I didn't think all that much of.

What I do remember very clearly was my amusement the first time I heard it described as "whore's pasta." I don't speak Italian, but apparently, putta and puttana are used for prostitute, whore, or just as general slang/swear words. There are many ways people relate that to the origin of the dish. Story #1 states that since puttanesca uses all pantry ingredients, a working girl could easily make herself dinner between clients. Story #2 is that houses of ill repute would make puttanesca as another means of bringing in male clients. While those two ideas have their charms, I lean a little more towards the third story, which centers around the idea that it's "what the hell" pasta.  Someone was hungry, swearing, and made dinner by just throwing into pasta sauce all the strong flavored ingredients they had easily accessible, and found that it made a tasty dish. 

Whatever your belief or ideas, if you like anchovies, garlic, olives and capers, you are going to love puttanesca. It is a super simple dinner to pull together and like another classic, carbonara, it relies on ingredients I usually have laying around in my kitchen. What is most important is that you use high quality ingredients. I was dying to try a new brand of anchovies I had laying around, so puttanesca just called to me as the perfect dinner to make. 

Boozy Epicure's Pasta Puttanesca
This makes enough sauce to dress an entire pound of pasta. I don't really cut back on this sauce even if I'm just making dinner for 2, I'll sop it up with bread and be a very happy girl.

Pasta of choice (I prefer spaghetti, but you can use whatever shape makes you happy) 
Extra virgin olive oil
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
4 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
1 fresh red chili, finely chopped (optional) or a pinch of red pepper flake
1 can of tomatoes
a small handful of black olives, pits removed and roughly chopped
2 tblsps capers, roughly chopped
fresh chopped parsley and freshly grated cheese to garnish

Put a large pot of water on to boil for your pasta.

In a pan, place a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and your garlic. Turn the heat to medium and start getting that garlic flavor infused in that oil. Now before you question, I use extra virgin olive oil for this dish cause I like the flavor and I'm not turning the heat to high which would degrade that flavor. If you are more aggressive with your heat, feel free to use regular olive oil. Also, this is exactly one of those dishes that I favor a good garlic press, or using a microplane and grating my garlic. I want intense garlic flavor all throughout.

Once the garlic is starting to infuse the oil, add your anchovies and chilis (or red pepper flake) and use your spoon to break them down in the oil. Let that go at medium heat just a few minutes then add your canned tomatoes and their juice. Now you can turn the heat up a bit to concentrate that tomato flavor and get all those flavors melding together. 

Hopefully by this point your pasta water is boiling, so salt it, add your pasta to that pot, and add the olives and capers to the sauce.

While the pasta cooks to al dente perfection, simmer the sauce, letting everything become a harmonious whole. 

When your pasta is done, add it to the sauce. I like to reserve a cup of pasta cooking water if I'm draining the pasta with a colander, cause if your dish is looking too dry, some of that pasta water works magic to pull the whole thing together. I like to cook the pasta for it's last minute right in the sauce, then pull it off the heat, finish it with a little more extra virgin olive oil, then plate it up and garnish with the parsley and fresh grated cheese. Parmesan is great although I love romano on my puttanesca too.

All that's left is to devour. Dinner in 30 minutes or less, with tons of flavor, and an amusing story. What more can you ask for?

Oh, wine? Well, of course. With the pungentness of the sauce, I rather like white wine with puttanesca, although a light bodied Italian red, like Barbera, would be delicious too. The last time I made puttanesca, the briny and saltiness worked quite well with brut Champagne. That's a non-traditional pairing, but I loved it. 

You got a different story for the naming of pasta puttanesca? How about a favorite wine to pair? Send me an email or let me know in the comments.

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