~ Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Prostitute's Spaghetti) ~
Say what? Yep. "Alla puttanesca" literally means "in the style of a prostitute". The day I heard that, I hit the streets -- in search of more history behind this delicious dish's sordid-sounding name. Not growing up in an Italian household or in the company of a lot of Italian-Americans, I was in my early 30's in the early '80's watching Mario Batali make it and translate the name on TV. I did a double take. Before that, I thought puttanesca was just a quick-to-make pasta dish with a vibrant sauce that one could throw together using a few pantry staples. Chuckle.
Try think to of it as a "happy meal" -- for everyone involved.
The sauce is called "sugo" alla puttanesca, meaning, "sauce" in the stye of a prostitute. The word "puttanesca" derives from the Italian word "puttana", which means "whore". Puttana comes from the Latin word "putina", which means "stinking". Whether truth or myth, research revealed three stories that, when referencing "whores" and "stinking", most couldn't resist mentioning: 1) Puttanesca was a cheap dish "working girls" could cook from the cupboard between "customers". 2) When referencing "stinking", the strong aroma of the sauce would lure men from the streets into houses of ill repute. 3) The dish was served to men awaiting their turn.
Personally, I don't care if the harlots of Italy invented the dish. Good for them. The reality is, puttanesca is a WWII war- and post-war era dish, born at a time when fresh ingredients were in short supply everywhere and subsequently popularized when tomato-based sauces for pasta were gaining in popularity, especially here in the USA due to the soldiers returning home.
Puttanesca = BOLD flavors packed into an inexpensive meatless meal.
One thing is certain, the components (a canned tomato product, olive oil, garlic and/or onion, dried red pepper flakes, oregano, basil or parsley, and, salt in the form of anchovies, black olives and/or nonpareil capers), packed a whole lot of flavor into an inexpensive meatless meal when people craved it the most. Experts disagree on the finishing addition of grated parmesan or pecorino -- I personally dislike cheese on my spaghetti alla puttanesca. That said, like all Italian and Italian-American dishes, recipes vary from region to region and cook to cook, so put in it what you like, in quantities you like, within the parameters. After all, it's "comfort food". Sigh.
Garlic, onion, capers, anchovies, olives, red pepper & oregano!
1 cup medium-diced yellow or sweet onion
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
2 2-ounce cans anchovy fillets, packed in oil, well-drained & diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup large non-pareil capers
1 cup sliced or chopped pitted black olives
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon minced, fresh oregano leaves
zest of 1/2-3/4 of a lemon for adding to sauce + the additional zest for garnishing individual portions
1 pound spaghetti, cooked al dente, as package directs*
* Note: Spaghetti is traditional, but, other stranded pastas, like linguine work nicely too, so feel free to substitute. That said, puttanesca is a quick-to-make sauce. Cooks who make it often, meaning they have the recipe committed to memory, will tell you that as they are bringing a pot of water to a boil, and, cooking and draining the spaghetti, they prepare the sauce. Feel free to cook your pasta while making the sauce or do it afterward, whichever is most convenient.
~Step 1. Heat olive oil in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, salt and black pepper. Adjust heat to gently sauté, until the onion is soft, stirring frequently, about 6 minutes. Add anchovy fillets and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until anchovies have disappeared into mixture and garlic is soft, about 3 minutes. Add and stir the tomato paste and red pepper flakes into the mix. Cook for 1 more minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, capers, black olives and sugar.
~ Step 2. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to cook until thickened and saucelike, about 15 minutes. Stir in the oregano and lemon zest and continue to cook an additional 5 minutes.
~ Step 3. In an 8- quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add and cook the spaghetti, until al dente. Drain cooked pasta into a colander and immediately return pasta to still hot stockpot. Return the stockpot to the still warm stovetop.
Ladle sauce into pasta, a cup or two at a time, until pasta is generously coated in puttanesca sauce, but not drenched in the bold-flavored puttanesca sauce, about 2 1/2-3 cups of sauce.
Portion & serve ASAP garnished w/additional lemon zest:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; 8-quart stockpot; colander
Cook's Note: Fall, Spring, Summer or Winter, every good cook has a couple of go-to "pantry cooking recipes". The list of reasons to need or want to cook something fast, that tastes like you cooked all day, is endless. Another one of my favorites, ~ Pantry Cooking: Chicken & Rice (Arroz con Pollo) ~ can be found by clicking in Categories 3, 13, 19 or 20.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)