Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Week Night Pasta with Punch

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Those who have read previous posts have figured out by now that I enjoy Mediterranean flavors and dishes that are far from shy and retiring. This dish meets both criteria and qualifies as relatively easy to prepare on a weeknight.

The dish is not ancient. Sources trace it to the 1950's or 60's. The name means something, but this is a PG blog so let's translate it loosely as street spaghetti. Quick, easy, and a bit garishly dressed.


16 ounces dry spaghetti
1/2 red onion diced small
4 to 5 garlic cloves rough minced
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half
28 ounce can peeled plum tomatoes
Rounded Tbs. capers
Rounded Tbs. Italian seasoning or oregano
large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
3 baby bella mushroom tops, diced (optional)
3 anchovy fillets, minced
2 to 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan

Notes on Ingredients

  1. I find it difficult to open a tin of anchovies to use only 1 or 2 or 3 of them. I do not enjoy eating the rest - even on crackers. Instead, I buy tubes of anchovy paste and squirt lines equal to the number of anchovy fillets the recipe wants. When I am out of anchovy paste, I use splashes of fish sauce to acquire the same flavor.
  2. You owe it to yourself to buy the San Marzano tomatoes packed in puree with a basil leaf.
  3. Capers are good, but don't let their absence stop you from making the dish. Between the olives and the anchovy, you won't really miss them.
  4. The traditional recipe contained no mushroom. I find them to be a good texture difference and mushrooms soak up the flavors. Put them in, leave them out. Whatever works for you.
  5. This sauce tends to be chunky. I find a penne to be equally good for the pasta.


Bring a large pasta pot of salty water to the boil, cover it, turn the heat off, and hold it ready to cook the pasta.

Heat the olive oil to shimmering in a large skillet and add the onion.  Include the mushroom, if desired. While stirring to avoid browning, cook the onion to translucent and the mushroom to soft. Add the garlic and herbs and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Turn the pasta water back on to boil.

Add the tomato, the the anchovy paste, the olives, the capers, and the red pepper flakes to the onion and mushrooms. Use a wooden spoon or your hands to break up the whole tomatoes. Bring the mixture to the boil as the pasta water reheats.

When the sauce boils, reduce the heat to simmer. Allow the sauce to thicken a bit. When the pasta water boils, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Drain and place the pasta in a large platter and pour the sauce over the pasta. Serve to individual bowls and liberally garnish with the fresh grated cheese.

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