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Easy Authentic Italian Pasta Puttanesca

This authentic Italian pasta puttanesca recipe has a rich flavor profile but is easy to make with pantry staples! Add some spaghetti and it becomes a favorite pasta recipe you can make at home any night of the week. 

Pasta in a pan and some on a white plate.


 

Simple and flavorful, this easy Italian pasta recipe is popular for good reason! It has an intense flavor with only a few ingredients and can be served as a first course or you can make a meal out of it. 

I prefer to make it in the Neapolitan style without anchovies and save those for spaghetti e alici , but many modern versions of the recipe contain them. Just like a classic minestrone or carbonara there are many variations to this popular dish, every region has their own way!

Serve it in a traditional way with spaghetti but if you want to try penne or fusilli that’s fine too. This tomato-based pasta sauce is unlike any other tomato sauce you may have tried, and your taste buds are going to love it! 

Puttanesca Sauce Ingredients

  • Olive oil: A good quality extra virgin olive oil that you like is ideal. 
  • Garlic: You will need 2-3 whole garlic cloves which will be flattened slightly to release their garlicky goodness.
  • Red pepper flakes: Hot pepper flakes or a fresh hot pepper chopped add just the right amount of spicy heat to pasta puttanesca. 
  • Black pepper – is can also be added either in place of hot pepper flakes or a combination.
  • Capers: These add a tangy flavor to the sauce. 
  • Pelati tomatoes: One 14 oz can of peeled San Marzano tomatoes is best, as they are known for their quality, sweetness and low acidity. 
  • Fresh parsley: Also known as Italian or flat leaf parsley, it adds bright fresh and herby flavor to this easy pasta puttanesca. 
  • Kalamata olives: Olives that are pitted and cut in half add the best briny flavor to the puttanesca sauce. Authentic Italian recipes call for unpitted Gaeta olives, which you cut and pit yourself.
Ingredients for the recipe.

How to Make Pasta Puttanesca 

To start, prep your pasta puttanesca ingredients. Chop the parsley, if using a fresh hot pepper then finely chop, rinse and drain the capers, cut the pelati tomatoes into small pieces and cut the olives in half.

In a large pot, cook the pasta al dente in boiling salted water. Drain the spaghetti and reserve some pasta water to add to the sauce. 

While the water is boiling and pasta is cooking, in a large skillet or pan over medium heat, add the oil, garlic cloves and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Garlic, hot peppers and oil in a pan.

Next, add the capers, the chopped tomatoes and half the chopped parsley then stir to combine. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. 

The tomatoes, capers and parsley added and cooked in the pan.

Remove the cover and continue to cook 5-10 minutes until the puttanesca sauce has thickened stirring occasionally. Remove the garlic and add the olives and remaining parsley and cook for 1 minute.

The sauce cooked with olives in the pan.

Finally, add the reserved al dente spaghetti and 2-3 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water and cook on high for 30 seconds tossing continuously. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese or even parsley if desired.

The spaghetti and pasta water added and tossed with the sauce.

What is the Best Pasta to Use? 

A common name for this dish is actually spaghetti alla puttanesca although some like to make it with either penne or rigatoni.

What is Puttanesca? 

Sugo alla puttanesca (puttanesca sauce) is a flavorful classic Southern Italian tomato sauce dating back to the 20th century. There are many theories on the origins of pasta puttanesca, but the most popular one ties it in with the meaning behind ‘puttana’ which translates roughly to mean prostitute.

Some say that the sauce with its bold aroma was thought to lure potential clients and still others say it was a hearty meal to partake between clients! 

Regardless, today simple ingredients in pasta puttanesca are what entices us to this recipe! Made with pantry staples such as canned tomatoes, capers, olives, fresh garlic and pepper flakes its complex rich taste pairs perfectly with spaghetti pasta for an easy dinner any night of the week. 

Pasta in the pan and some on a white plate with a fork.

Tips and Variations

  • Anchovies: If you wish to add anchovies to your pasta puttanesca, add 2-3 anchovy fillets chopped with the oil, garlic and hot pepper flakes. Anchovies are salty so add less or no salt to your pasta water.
  • Olives: Although Kalamata olives are often used and Gaeta olives are traditional, any olive works such as green olives or black olives.
  • Cheese: Garnish the dish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese or pecorino cheese before serving.
  • Stir often: Tomatoes contain natural sugars and can be prone to burn. Stirring often can prevent burning and adding some reserved pasta water can help thin the sauce when the tomatoes start to cook down. 

How to serve Pasta Puttanesca

In Italy pasta is always considered the first plate with a protein such as chicken, beef, fish or pork served next with a vegetable or even a simple salad. Of course fresh bread is always on the table so you can wipe up all that delicious sauce! Fare la scarpetta don’t you know?! 

Although if you prefer you can always make a meal just out of a plate of pasta. Sounds good to me!

Storage

As is the case with most pasta dishes, only mix the amount of pasta and sauce that you plan on eating right away. Store leftover puttanesca sauce in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 4-5 days. 

Reheat the sauce on the stovetop until warm and serve with freshly made spaghetti or pasta of choice. 

The pasta in the skillet.

FAQs

What does pasta puttanesca taste like?

Pasta puttanesca is savory from the olives, briny from the capers and sweet from the tomatoes. Combined together it really is a tangy and umami culinary delight for your tastebuds. 

What does spaghetti alla puttanesca translate late to in English?

As mentioned above the origins of puttanesca derive from the root of the word puttana which translates to ‘prostitute’ in Italian. From there though there are many theories as to where the dish gets its name!

Some say brothels of the Spanish quarters, others the bordellos in Naples and still others say it was an inventive chef who first called it that. After World War II, it was also called alla marinara. Such a rich history for a complex yet simple dish! 

Can I freeze this dish?

The puttanesca sauce, yes. Double or triple the recipe when making it and save some for later. Never freeze the sauce tossed with the pasta, the texture will change when thawed. 

Can I make this ahead? 

You can make the sauce ahead of time and store in the refrigerator for two to three days. When it comes time to serve just make your pasta fresh, toss with the sauce and serve. 

So if you are looking for a very popular and delicious Authentic Italian Pasta dish then I hope you try this Pasta Puttanesca. Buon Appetito!

Pasta on a white plate with a fork.

More Pasta Recipes To Try

Pasta in a pan with some on a white plate with a fork.

Easy Italian Pasta Putenesca

Rosemary Molloy
This authentic Italian pasta puttanesca recipe has a rich flavor profile but is easy to make with pantry staples! Perfect with spaghetti. 
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 servings
Calories 330 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
 
 

  • 3 cups spaghetti cooked
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic whole
  • 1-2 dashes hot pepper flakes (or one fresh finely chopped)
  • 2-3 tablespoons capers (in salt) rinsed and drained
  • 1 can pelati tomatoes (peeled san marzano) 14 ounces (400 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley (finely chopped) (divided)
  • 1 cup Kalamata olives (pitted)

*Authentic putenesca calls for unpitted Gaeta olives, which you cut and pit yourself.

    Instructions
     

    • Before you start, chop the parsley, rinse and drain the capers, cut the pelati tomatoes in small pieces and cut the pitted olives in half.
    • In a large pot boil the water and add the spaghetti cook al dente.
    • While the water is boiling and the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. In a large pan add the oil, garlic (lightly flattened with a knife) and the hot pepper flakes, cook 1-2 minutes, add the capers, the chopped tomatoes and half the chopped parsley stir to combine, cover and cook 5 minutes on medium heat. Remove the cover and continue to cook 5-10 minutes until thickened, remove the garlic and add the olives and remaining parsley, cook 1 minute.
    • Add the al dente spaghetti and 2-3 tablespoons of pasta water, cook on high 30 seconds tossing continuously. Serve immediately topped with freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese if desired. Enjoy!

    Notes

    Double the amount of dried pasta to make the cooked amount. 
    This is the authentic way although the modern recipe will also include 2-3 anchioves, add them with the oil, garlic and hot pepper flakes, because anchioves are salty you might want to leave out the salt when boiling the pasta.
    A common name for this dish is actually spaghetti alla puttanesca although some like to make it with either penne or rigatoni.
    If you wish you can also serve sprinkled with some parmesan or pecorino cheese.As is the case with most pasta dishes, only mix the amount of pasta and sauce that you plan on eating right away. Store leftover puttanesca sauce in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 4-5 days. 
     
     

    Nutrition

    Calories: 330kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Sodium: 791mg | Potassium: 277mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 501IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 65mg | Iron: 3mg
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