I love a good pasta dish, and puttanesca sauce is one of my favorites. Relatively light, it is made with fresh end-of-season tomatoes. I use oil-cured Moroccan black olives, those that are a bit wrinkled. They lend a nice bitter note to counterbalance the sweet and tangy tomato base and salty capers.
Originating in Naples, Italy, it is believed to have been invented by "ladies of the night," as the name suggests. Made with simple pantry ingredients, there are as many versions as there are cooks. For the most part, capers and black olives are a constant. From there, anchovies (optional, here), garlic, red pepper flakes and herbs such as basil and parsley, can be thrown in the sauce as well. I prefer to skip the anchovies, especially when entertaining. It's one of those ingredients that you either love or dislike (hate is a strong word!). While it is often made with spaghetti, feel free to use your favorite pasta shape. I happen to love linguini fini for this dish.
Four things about pasta dishes that I learned while cooking in Italy many moons ago: First, never add oil to the water you cook your pasta in. Just a sprinkle of salt is all you need. Second, break long pasta in half (yes, indeed!). Third, stain the pasta with sauce, don't drown it. Fourth, finish the pasta in a skillet rather than transfer it to a serving bowl, pouring the sauce over it. That last minute toss in the hot skillet ensures that the pasta will be hot when served, and that's just the way it's done. Don't argue with Italian mommas!
TIP: Red pepper flakes can be hot or not so hot. Use judgment, but ideally you want a sauce that packs some heat without taking away from all the other wonderful ingredients. I like a mildly spicy version, as per the recipe.
RED SAUCE BASE: I generally like to use fresh tomatoes in season, but feel free to start with canned San Marzano tomatoes, peeling and removing the seeds.
If using fresh tomatoes, bring a pot of water to a boil. With a sharp pairing knife, make a criss-cross incision on each of the tomatoes. Carefully lower them into the boiling water for 15 to 30 seconds. Let cool and peel the tomatoes. Halve or quarter them and remove the seeds. Chop them up!
LINGUINI ALLA PUTTANESCA
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, crushed, peeled and minced
2 anchovy fillets packed in oil, chopped (optional)
3 cups chopped stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted, roughly chopped Moroccan black olives
3 tablespoons capers
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 sprigs basil, leaves only
4 sprigs parsley (flat or curly), leaves only
1 pound linguini fini (n.11)
1. In a large skillet over medium head, add the olive oil and sauté the garlic and anchovies (if using), until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and bring to a gentle boil, allowing it to reduce and lightly thicken, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add the olives, capers, basil and parsley.
2. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain and add to the puttanesca sauce, increasing the heat to medium. Toss the pasta for about 1 minute, incorporating it into the sauce, and serve hot.