Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is a quick and easy recipe that can be on the table in 20 minutes and tastes as if it came from your favorite Italian restaurant.
The easy sauce is a mixture of tomatoes, garlic, olives, and one secret ingredient (well, I keep it a secret from the kids) that turns your pasta from good to fantastic!
This Neapolitan Pasta Puttanesca is packed full of robust Italian flavors and can be made with just a handful of ingredients. So grab your spaghetti and give it a go.
What is Spaghetti alla Puttanesca?
Puttanesca is a vibrant, robust Italian sauce that is quick to cook and easy to make. It is said to be the pasta that women of the night cooked because it is quick to cook and doesn't need a trip to the markets.
But that also makes it an excellent recipe for a family midweek meal, when the fridge is a little empty, and the kids are in "I'm Totally Starving Mummy" mode.
It is a tomato-based sauce that starts with plenty of olive oil, garlic, and the secret ingredient - anchovies.
ANCHOVIES!!! Do you hate anchovies? (my kids do!)
I know, those tiny little fish can split the nation! But here you cannot taste them, what they do is add a special something to the puttanesca sauce, which means it packs a flavor punch without any hint of fish.
When you add the anchovies to the garlic and olive oil, they almost melt away. What you are left with is an intensely flavored mixture that has that umami quality and leaves you licking your lips, but you don't really know why.
Please don't leave out the anchovies (or anchovy paste) at least try it once...just for me? Because I love pasta (that is why there are over 60 pasta recipes here on S&S) and I promise I would never steer you wrong.
Please give it a go.....my kids don't notice the fish, and trust me, the youngest can spot a bit of broccoli floret pureed into pesto!
If I can't convince you to give it a go with the anchovy or you want to make this vegan/vegetarian, then I do have an anchovy free option for you in the next section.
Pasta Puttanesca recipe without anchovies
If anchovies are just never going near your pasta, then you can get a similar salty flavor hit by using capers instead.
Some food historians suggest that the original dish from Campania didn't include anchovies and that they were added to the recipe in Lazio, where the dish became a classic.
Capers give you a briny salty tang that can replace the umami anchovies. I would suggest 1-2 tbsp of capers in place of the anchovy fillets/paste.
Key ingredients in Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Tomatoes - Canned tomatoes, outside of Italy, can be watery, bland and sour. Use some fresh tomatoes and some crushed tomatoes to get the intense sweet tomato flavor that is important in this recipe.
Olives - I like the black olives (they are traditional for the Campania version, but green olives became part of the Lazio classic)
Garlic - Lots of it! This is a robust dish that pulls those fresh Italian flavors together.
Olive Oil - again, there is a lot of it here, it is an essential flavor in the dish, so use your good stuff.
Pasta - Spaghetti is traditional, but linguine or any long pasta shape will be fine.
Pasta cooking water - a cup of the water the pasta cooked in, gives this sauce more flavor and helps the simple sauce stick to your pasta! (I mention pasta cooking water in nearly every pasta recipe....that is because it is an incredible free ingredient!!)
How to make Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
The pasta needs to go on first as the sauce takes around 5 minutes to make!
Once the pasta is on sliced garlic is cooked over low heat in plenty of extra virgin olive oil, and then you add in the anchovy fillets or anchovy paste. This is stirred together to give a thick paste.
To this chopped cherry tomatoes are added along with a couple of tablespoons of crushed tomatoes. This is simmered gently for a couple of minutes, and then the cooked pasta is added along with some pasta cooking water. This brings the sauce together and ensures every strand of the spaghetti is coated in puttanesca sauce.
What to serve with Pasta Puttanesca
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is about big, bold flavors so you can serve a simple side salad easily with the pasta, the simple dressing compliments the tomato-based sauce.
Or add a pan-fried chicken breast or steak to the dish and use the pasta as more of a side option. My kids love it with oven-baked chicken schnitzel.
Pasta Puttanesca Wine Pairing
This spaghetti is the perfect dish for pairing with a gusty Italian red! But one that isn't too high in alcohol content. A barbera or zinfandel would be my reds of choice here.
Or for those loving white wine, then go for something crisp like a falanghina or a verdicchio.
For more quick and easy pasta recipes try:
- Garlic Butter Pasta with Garlic Chicken
- Creamy Tomato Chicken Chorizo Pasta
- Creamy Lemon Salmon Pasta
- Shrimp Chorizo Pasta
- Shrimp and Bacon Pasta
- Pasta with Chicken Broth and Butter
- Easy Garlic Bacon Pasta
- Creamy Pepper Steak Pasta
- Lemon Pepper Chicken Pasta
- Creamy Chicken Chili Pasta
- See ALL 60+ Pasta Recipes
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Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
- 6 garlic cloves
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 6 anchovy fillets or 2 tsp anchovy paste - see note 1
- 1 cup stoned black olives - see note 2
- 12 oz spaghetti
- 1 tbsp salt
- ¼ cup olive oil - see note 3
- ½ cup crushed tomatoes or passata
- fresh basil/parsley to serve
- grated parmesan.
- Put a large pan of water on to boil. While the water is coming to a boil, prepare/chop the other ingredients and leave them on your chopping board ready for use. (see note 4)
- Peel and thinly slice 6 garlic cloves.
- Cut 1 cup of cherry tomatoes into halves (or quarter if large).
- Roughly chop 6 anchovy fillets.
- Chop 1 cup of stoned black olives. (See note 5)
- Once the water has come to a boil, add 1 tbsp of salt and 12oz/340g of pasta. Stir to submerge the spaghetti and then cook for 1 minute less than the packet suggests. (Set your timer)
- While the pasta is cooking, pour ¼ cup of olive oil into a large frying pan and add the sliced garlic, cook over medium heat until the garlic is just starting to sizzle.
- Add in the chopped anchovies and stir to dissolve them in the oil.
- Add in the tomato halves and the chopped black olives. Turn the heat to medium-high and once sizzling add in the ½ cup of crushed tomatoes.
- Bring to a simmer for 2 minutes and then turn the heat to low.
- Reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta.
- Add the pasta to the frying pan along with ½ cup of pasta water. Use tongs to turn and coat the pasta in the sauce.
- Add more water as needed.
- Check the seasoning (It shouldn't need salt) and serve garnished with fresh herbs and parmesan if desired.
- Anchovy adds so much to this dish, but the result isn't fishy, just delicious! But if you are serving vegetarians or you don't want to use anchovy, then replace them with 2 tablespoons of drained roughly chopped capers.
- You can use green olives if you prefer.
- Use the best olive oil you can as the oil flavors the finished dish.
- You want to prepare and chop all of the veg before you start cooking as everything comes together quickly. Just cut each ingredient as directed and push to the sides of your chopping board.
- You can leave the olives chunky or chop them finely; this is down to personal preference. (I like them finely chopped)