Packed with rich umami flavor and made entirely from ingredients that are easy to keep on hand, pasta alla puttanesca is a classic for a reason. Here's how to make it in under 30 minutes.
Why we love this recipe
Pasta alla puttanesca is a dream come true for umami lovers. For pennies — likely ones you've already spent to stock your pantry — you can make a sauce that smacks your brain’s pleasure centers with an entire ingredient list worth of intensely umami-rich flavors.
- Tomatoes? Check.
- Garlic? Check.
- Anchovies? Check.
- Capers? Olives? Hot pepper? Parmesan? Check, check, checkity check.
It’s enough to make a perfectly demure food enthusiast break quite a sweat. That’s not one of the prevailing theories of why this dish is named after ladies of the night, but let’s be honest here. It ought to be.
What you'll need
Here's a glance at the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe.
- A humble tin of oil-packed anchovies sets the stage for the rest of the ingredients. It's amazing how they dissolve right into the sauce.
- Use capers in brine (rather than salt-packed) so they'll be tangier and a little less salty.
- For the pasta, rigatoni, spaghetti, and penne are classics. If you're using one of the shorter shapes, seek out ones with ridges (rigate), so the sauce will cling to them better.
How to make it
Here's what you'll do to make a great bowl of pasta alla puttanesca. You can see all the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get the details in the recipe card below.
- Pour the whole contents of the tin of anchovies into a pot set over medium heat. Add the garlic. Stir and mash with a spoon until the anchovies have dissolved.
- Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and simmer for about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, boil the pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water, and add both to the sauce pot.
- Stir it all together, scoop into bowls, and serve with grated cheese.
Expert tips and FAQs
You could definitely make the sauce in advance if you like — even freeze it for future use. Cook the pasta right before serving.
Officially, puttanesca contains anchovies. But if you want to make it vegetarian, you can leave them out. The dish will have a different flavor but will still be delicious.
To make it vegan, also leave out the parmesan rind.
If you like, you can add some other umami-rich ingredients instead. I sometimes chop up some sun dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers and add them to the mix. I
More favorite pasta classics
- 2-ounce tin anchovy fillets in olive oil
- 10 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 big pinch red pepper flakes
- 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes with their juices
- ½ cup pitted Kalamata or oil-cured black olives, chopped
- ¼ cup capers
- 1 2-inch piece of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese rind
- A few good grinds black pepper
- 1 pound dry pasta (we like spaghetti or rigatoni)
- Grated parmesan or pecorino for serving
- Set a medium pot over medium-low heat. Pour in the entire tin of anchovies, olive oil and all. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring and mashing the anchovies against the bottom of the pan to break them up, until the anchovies have all but melted away.
- Add the tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, for one minute.
- Add the canned tomatoes, olives, capers, cheese rind and black pepper. Simmer the sauce, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, until thickened slightly.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of very well salted water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente according to package directions.
- Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water.
- Pour drained pasta and reserved ½ cup of cooking water into sauce pot and toss to coat.
- Spoon into bowls and serve with grated cheese to pass at the table.
- I sometimes use this recipe as an excuse to clean out the pantry a little bit and add even more savory ingredients, like ¼ cup of Trader Joe's awesome sun dried tomatoes in a bag (chopped up a little extra) and a drained 4-ounce can of chopped roasted red peppers (or pimientos or piquillos or what have you).
- If you don't have a parmesan rind, you can stir in a few tablespoons of grated parmesan or pecorino during cooking.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 360Total Fat: 3.7gCarbohydrates: 68.4gFiber: 4.6gProtein: 14.3g