I will admit this recipe sounds a little weird. Just have an open mind and you might (will!) be pleasantly surprised. I honestly cannot remember how I first learned about Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, but I discovered it near the end of undergrad. I suspect the initial recipe may have been in an issue of Bon Appetit. However, it’s one of those recipes that doesn’t really need a recipe, so I never returned to the source. Anyway! I think the history and translation of Spaghetti alla Puttanesca are more interesting than how I came up with my recipe for Linguine Puttanesca.
According to Google, the Italian word puttana translates to words like tart, harlot, strumpet, floozy, and prostitute. Spaghetti alla Puttanesca literally means spaghetti in the style of a prostitute. As far as I know, the pasta doesn’t actually have anything stylistically in common with a trollop. The association with prostitution relates more to the recipe’s origin. According to the internet, prostitutes invented this dish as a quick meal between clients. Other sources claim a restaurant serving prostitutes a late night dinner created the recipe by throwing together whatever was left in the kitchen. Other articles I’ve read claim prostitutes have nothing to do with the origin of puttanesca sauce. So, perhaps, we will never know the true history of this sauce, but that doesn’t make it any less special!
Puttanesca is a spicy and savory tomato sauce traditionally made with garlic, olives, capers, red pepper, and anchovies. I’ve made the sauce with anchovies, but that’s not my preference. Anchovies are okay, but I don’t think they are very filling. I prefer oil packed, canned tuna. I know it sounds weird, but I promise it is good. Some people are crazy for San Marzano plum tomatoes, but regular whole plum tomatoes work fine. Whatever you do, don’t get diced tomatoes. Diced tomatoes are the WORST and seem to have a disproportionate amount of stem end chunks. I crush the plum tomatoes by hand over the skillet and trash any stray peels or tough stem ends. The tomatoes can be broken up more in the skillet with a spatula. If you aren’t careful, this gets messy. It’s probably best to wear an apron or something you don’t care about.
I feel like this is a truly perfect recipe. Nearly all the ingredients are stored in a pantry and fairly cheap, it’s easy to make, and it’s even pretty healthy. Linguine Puttanesca is probably my favorite recipe for the end of the week. It’s perfect for when most of the groceries I bought the following weekend are starting to run out, and/or I don’t really feel like cooking. I’m not being unrealistic when I say this meal can be ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. A word of warning, this dish is plenty salty on its own with the capers and olives. Proceed with caution, if adding salt.