I just love this dish.  Even down to the mixed stories behind its name – it’s because “ladies of the evening” were too lazy to shop so they cooked what was in their pantry … it’s because said ladies wanted a quick, simple dish to serve their clientele … it’s because they wanted something quick and tasty to serve their bambinos before the women went off to ply their wares … I’ve heard all the myths.

Whatever the story, the dish itself is so strongly evocative of the Mediterranean that it will bring some Neopolitan warmth into the dreariest, rainiest evening.  And, right now, after more than a week of rain, I need it!!!  (I know, I know … Brisbane … I shouldn’t complain, but damn, I’m tired of the drizzle). 

Other than buying a jar of Ragu and heating it in the microwave, this is probably the easiest pasta sauce you will ever make – and it’s one of those great recipes that you can adjust according to your personal taste without changing the essence of the dish.  I add a bit of balsamic to mine so that the sweetness will counterbalance the acid in the tomatoes and the saltiness of the olives and especially the capers.  Some folks like to add a chilli pepper as well as the red pepper flakes, but, to me, that makes it spicy rather than sun-drenched.

Pasta Puttanesca

  • olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 large cloves garlic, microplaned
  • 3 anchovy filets, boned
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cans chopped tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup olives, pitted and halved
  • 2 Tbsp capers, rinsed
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley (optional)

In a large pot over low heat, drizzle in a few good glugs of olive oil (enough to make a puddle covering about 3/4 of the bottom of the pot).  Add the pepper flakes, garlic and anchovy filets, mashing around to make a nice emulsion and cook about 2 minutes or so.  Add the balsamic vinegar and raise the heat to reduce it a bit.  Add the tomatoes, olives, and capers, bring to a light boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer 15 minutes or so while you cook the pasta.  Again, the point of this dish is that it’s easy and FAST.  Taste for seasoning – you shouldn’t need much salt, but it benefits from a really good grinding of pepper. 

You can add fresh basil to finish it, but I don’t think the recipe suffers from the lack of it.  To me, one of the key benefits of this dish is that it is all stuff from your pantry shelf (okay, with the exception of the fresh garlic) – you can add fresh herbs to it if you like – but if you don’t, that’s okay, too!  Serve it with some really crusty, really garlic-y garlic bread … yumyumyum!

pantry shelf cooking at its finest!