The infamous theory behind the origins of pasta puttanesca ("pasta of the whores") is that the mid-20th century prostitutes of Naples used it to lure men — through its pungent and enticing aroma — into their brothels, a la dogs in cartoons hypnotized by the scent of juicy steaks. This Italiophile doesn’t buy it. Too, well, cartoonish, even for pasta and women-loving Italian men. My theory has the particulars of this dish attributed figuratively to brothel-bound prostitutes since it lacks fresh ingredients (minus the optional herbs), meaning that it can be whipped up without having to do all the careful shopping and preparing any decent woman of Italy would regularly do to feed her beloved family.
Regardless, the simplicity and pantry-accessible nature of this dish can’t be denied. Neither can its vibrancy, making it a perfect, quick, and satisfying pasta for a cold winter’s night.
Ingredients (serves four):
- 1 lb of any long pasta (linguine or fettuccine)
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
- 3/4 cup pitted, cured olives (rough chopped)
- 2 tbsp capers
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- 1 28-oz can of imported, whole tomatoes (crushed by hand)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- salt to taste
- Put a large pot of water on to boil.
- Bring 3 tbsp of olive oil to a shimmer in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Add the garlic and anchovy, adjusting heat or even temporarily removing from heat to keep the garlic from burning. Saute until the garlic is lightly browned and the anchovies break apart.
- Raise heat, add the tomatoes, season with salt, bring to a quick boil and then let simmer for ten minutes (stirring on occasion).
- Add the olives, capers, red pepper flakes, and half the basil. Keep simmering until the sauce thickens (10–15 minutes).
- Salt the boiling water and add the pasta. Cook till a minute short of al dente. Drain and quickly add to the saute pan with the sauce (or combine in a large serving bowl). Allow the noodles to finish cooking in the sauce.
- Remove to a serving bowl. Swirl in the remaining olive oil. Top with the remaining basil.