Easy Pasta Puttanesca Recipe

A well-made puttanesca sauce can be one of the most intensely flavorful of all the types of sauces in Italian cuisine. The recipe I have for you today is quick, inexpensive, and contains easy to find ingredients. The combination of olives, capers, garlic, hot pepper flakes and anchovies (don't panic! See below for more on this critical ingredient), makes for an unforgettable sauce.

Best of all, you'll easily be able to make this dish in 20-25 minutes from start to finish.

Of course this dish takes its name from uh, ladies of the night. Depending on whose history you prefer, either this was a dish prostitutes would offer to entice customers into brothels, or it was an easy and cheap meal that prostitutes could prepare between customers. Let's just leave that subject right there, shall we? Ever since my inappropriate discussion on stiffly beaten egg whites, I've been trying to keep this blog more G-rated.

The entire dish should cost around $7-8 to make and it serves 5-6 easily. That may not quite qualify for laughably cheap, but it's pretty close. Furthermore, this is a dish that scales quite easily, so you can certainly double the recipe for larger dinner groups.

One final comment on anchovies. If you don't like them, fear not. Laura can't even sit in the same room with an anchovy, yet she absolutely loves this dish. Do not leave them out.

Pasta Puttanesca


3 28-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
1 heaping teaspoon oregano
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup small or medium olives (can use oil-cured olives or canned olives, depending on how "casual" you want to be), drained and rinsed
1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped or pressed
8 or so anchovy fillets (buy one small tin of anchovies in oil)

Pasta (linguine or fettucine usually works best here)

Combine tomatoes in olive oil in a deep pan or large sauce pan. Turn heat up to medium high. Chop up the tomatoes coarsely with the spatula as shown below. [Note: some puttanesca purists will say drain the juices and strain out the seeds, but that is a lot of work and thus Casual Kitchen says just go with the tomatoes and juices as they come out of the can.]

Then, add each of the other ingredients one by one as the sauce comes to a boil.

Once you've added all the ingredients and the sauce is beginning to boil, turn down the heat to medium low. Let the sauce simmer and thicken for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, while you cook the pasta.

Ladle sauce liberally onto pasta and serve immediately!


First, let's take a quick look at a photo of all the ingredients you'll need.

Notice the seemingly extraneous glass of wine. Although this recipe doesn't include wine as a specific ingredient, we have seen before that a glass of wine serves critical functions for the chef, both as an analgesic and a mood-lifter.

Use the spatula to break up the tomatoes into coarse chunks. You'll probably want to at least quarter every tomato, even the smaller ones. Proceed carefully with this part of the recipe, and do not wear white.

I usually pour the capers into a small strainer and then run cold water over theme to rinse them. After that, you can drop the little guys straight into the pan.

Add each of the other ingredients one by one. In goes the garlic!

If you either loathe or fear anchovies, or if they gross you out in any way, skip the next two pictures. But DO NOT LEAVE THEM OUT OF THIS RECIPE. They are an absolutely critical element of the overall flavor of the sauce. Remember, even though Laura claims she cannot sit in the same room with an anchovy, she still loves this dish.

Chop up the anchovies into smallish pieces, maybe the size of an aspirin tablet or smaller. You'll want them to disintegrate in the boiling sauce.

Okay--anchovy haters may now look again....

Bring the sauce to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally:

Ladle onto your pasta. A wide/flat pasta like linguine or fettucine works well for this dish, but honestly any type of pasta is fine.

And enjoy!!

Literacy alert! I'll give away a free gift subscription to Casual Kitchen for any person who leaves a comment naming the author and poem that's excerpted in the picture above. :) Good luck!

Related Posts:
Seven Ways to Get Faster at Cooking
Eight Tips to Make Cooking At Home Laughably Cheap: The Economics of Cooking, Part 2


Jonathan Johnson said...

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Kubla Khan"

Looks like a great recipe, by the way.

Daniel said...

Now THAT was fast! This post couldn't have been up more than 10 minutes. Congrats. Next time I'll have to make it a tougher test....


Anonymous said...

Great recipe, CK.

Ahhhh the Anchovy.

First you liberated the lowly beet from the dirt-floor of the Slavic cellar; now you have raised from the depths the anchovy and brought it to it's rightful status as mini wonder-food, the miracle of Amalfi, the fishy flavor-bomb, a sort of natural MSG from the ocean.

I often slip anchovies in to sauces and braised dishes and have sometimes had to hide the can so as not to turn off some who know not what they fear.

I usually add half to the dish and eat the other half from the can on bread, washed down with a beer. this is only for those who "really" love anchovies.

I have noticed in the past few years that fresh anchovies have made a comeback on some menus, particular at spanish tapas and italian restaurants. When they are fresh they are stunningly good.

For a more traditional Napolitan or Amalfitan anchovy experience, order an anchovy pizza at Patsy's in East harlem or Pepe's in New Haven.

Daniel said...

So true about people "knowing not what they fear." So true.

And I've been known to sneak a few anchovies myself.

Thanks for your comment!


Alphacyg said...

Just made this tonight and it's spectacular! I didn't know what I'd do with the remainder anchovies, so minced them fine and threw them all in. They added an elusive and savory flavor, but I couldn't see them in the finished sauce.

I'm trying not to go into the kitchen and drink the rest of the sauce.

Daniel said...

Thanks for your comment Alphacyg! I've been tempted to drink this sauce on occasion too. It is that good. Thanks for reading!


Julio Rodriguez said...

never used a caper before, are you supposed to cut them in anyway or just chuck 'em in whole?

Daniel said...

Mr.Physix, Just chuck 'em in whole. At least that´s what I do. No need to cut them up.


Anna said...

This looks so good! We're not big fans of large cooked tomato hunks in things so I will probably use diced tomatoes, but I'm definitely going to try it soon. I've always wanted to make puttanesca.

Kaija said...

Great recipe! Puttanesca sauce is a favorite of mine and I will definitely bookmark this page...I love this colorful, chunky, tasty sauce on my pasta.

Another option is to use a few dashes of fish sauce instead of an anchovy. It's an Asian cooking ingredient that serves the same purpose as anchovy does in Italian cooking: brightens the taste of a dish with just a few dashes (though kind of scary on its own!). I believe the gourmets would call it the "umami" flavour :) A small bottle is really cheap in the Asian aisle of the stores or at an Asian grocery and lasts forever in the fridge :)

Daniel said...

Kaija, interesting and creative ingredient substitution idea! Thanks for sharing.