Pasta Puttanesca: Pronto!

by Tom Steele

I notice that when you say that one of your recipes is “simple,” it still can require advance preparation. Can you give me one of your favorite main-course recipes that goes from start to finish in 15 or 20 minutes? Thanks.
H. Roberts, Albany, NY

Pasta alla Puttanesca comes together quite quickly. Puttanesca means “harlot-style,” and the dish is supposedly so named because the sauce could be rapidly made by prostitutes between clients. Here’s how I do it:

Pasta Puttanesca

This sauce works with spaghetti, linguine, or perciatelli. With mise en place, the finished dish comes together very quickly—in the time it takes for the pasta to cook, about 11 minutes. Be sure to save the tomato juices when you drain them! They’re for the naked pasta. Anchovies packed in olive oil in a glass jar are generally better than those from a can. If you can find Alessi-brand capers packed in white balsamic vinegar, lunge for them, and write to me to tell me where you bought them. I can’t find them anywhere.

4 garlic cloves, pressed into a glass measure, covered with 1 tablespoon water
1 pound spaghetti, linguine, or perciatelli
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and/or droplets of Tabasco sauce
8-10 anchovies filets, rinsed and finely minced (use a mortar and pestle)
1 28-oz. can Muir Glen diced roasted tomatoes, drained, juices reserved
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
3/4 cup black olives (Gaeta, Alfonso, and Kalamata), pitted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Bring 6 quarts of water to the boil. Prepare everything as above and line it up on your counter.

When the water is at the rolling boil, add 2 tablespoons salt and the pasta. Stir to separate pasta.

Immediately heat oil, garlic mixture, red pepper flakes, and anchovies in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant but not brown, 2-3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain, then return pasta to pot. Add 1/2 cup (or so) of reserved juices to pasta and toss quickly to combine.

Stir capers, olives, and parsley into sauce. Pour sauce over pasta and toss to combine, adding more tomato juice to moisten, if necessary. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

While we’re on the subject of anchovies, I never use anchovy paste, which usually comes in a metallic tube. A fish monger once told me that anchovy paste is made from anchovy “scraps,” sometimes from the floor of the processing plant. (Imagine having a partner who worked in an anchovy processing plant! Mr. Snow would sure get a run for his aromas.) As for the larger head-on bone-in anchovies packed in salt, they’re a lot of work to fillet and soak in milk to take the salt out, and the flavor just isn’t where I like it, but if you want a stronger anchovy flavor, by all means seek out the salt-packed variety.

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