It feels slightly like a cop-out dedicating a post to cooking puttanesca. No pun intended (I promise), but the “whores’ pasta” is a pretty well-worn dish. It’s served on Italian restaurant menus the world over, and the UK’s national culinary treasures Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have both included versions of it in their books.
However, I realised as I was making some last night that it had been probably my favourite food for a decade. Surely reason enough for a shout-out. And there must be people out there who don’t know how to make it. Though whether or not they are reading this blog is a different matter.
So why do I love eating puttanesca so much? Two reasons I guess:
- The obvious one (and supposedly how it got its ladies-of-the-night-related nickname). All the ingredients are store-cupboard, ie you can have them in all the time, waiting for whatever hour you get in. Even flat leaf parsley keeps a good couple of weeks.
- The one that makes you want to chow it regularly for years and years. It has several of the most intense possible flavours, rolled into one gorgeous pungent sauce. Chilli heat, sweet concentrated tomatoes, salty olives, capers and anchovies, and a sizeable dose of garlic. What more do you want?
You will need:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 can anchovies, drained
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced as thinly as possible
- 2 dried chillies, chopped fine
- 400g canned tomatoes
- 1 heaped tsp oregano
- Black pepper
- Small can black olives, drained and roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp capers, roughly chopped
- Small bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
- Put the oil in a heavy-based saucepan on a low heat.
- Add the anchovies, stirring for a few minutes until they break down completely and dissolve into the oil.
- Now put in the garlic and chillies, giving them a couple of minutes to soften. Take care that the garlic doesn’t get brown.
- As soon as the pan starts to sizzle, add the tomatoes and turn the heat up high. Stir vigorously as the mixture comes to the boil, breaking up the tomatoes.
- Add the oregano and a very generous grind of black pepper, turn the heat down to medium and leave about 20 minutes.
- When the sauce has reduced to a thick, jam-like texture, stir in the olives and capers, lower the heat, and set your pasta to boil in well-salted water.
- As soon as the pasta is ready, add the parsley to the tomato sauce. Drain the pasta, reserving about a tablespoon of the salty cooking water. Unless you want blood like the Dead Sea, you shouldn’t need to add any further salt to the sauce.
- Toss the pasta with the reserved water, stir into the sauce and serve topped with parmesan.