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Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca

Download the recipe PDF. View the YouTube video.

Serves 6 to 8 as a main course (large serving).
By Dennis W. Viau; modified from various recipes.

In Italian puttanesca means whore. This dish first appeared in Italian cuisine around the 1950’s. One intent was to provide the working girls with a quick meal for sustenance between clients. Another explanation I read is that this food is like a good prostitute—fast, hot, and satisfying. Yet another is that the sauce’s aroma was to lure men into the dens of pleasure. One point I learned in my research: Cooks agree to disagree. There is no one classic formula. American versions often use onions, bell peppers, fresh basil, and/or Italian parsley. They all vary a little, but each claims to be traditional. I included many variants as “optional.” Make it the way you want it. The flavor should be robust.


3 tablespoons olive oil
½ large onion (about 6 ounces/170g) (optional)
3 to 4 cloves of garlic, depending on size; crushed or minced
3 to 4 anchovy fillets (you can double this for a more robust flavor)
Pinch oregano flakes
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 28–ounce (800g) cans Roma tomatoes; preferably San Marzano
2 tablespoons tomato paste (optional)
2 tablespoons capers
15 olives; mixed varieties, pits removed, chopped or sliced (Italian Gaeta olives are traditional)
3 to 4 artichoke hearts (my own optional contribution)
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
1 pound dry pasta, such as penne or spaghetti
Fresh basil for garnish (optional)
Parmesan or Romano cheese for garnish (optional)


About an hour before preparing the sauce, place the capers in enough cold water to cover and set aside to remove some of the saltiness. Drain and rinse before using.

Prepare the sauce by heating the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Sauté the optional onion until tender and translucent, about 5 minutes, then add the crushed garlic, anchovies, and oregano (and optional red pepper flakes). Cook for less than a minute, stirring to break up the fillets and being careful not to brown the garlic. Add the tomatoes along with the purée in the can (and the optional tomato paste). If you prefer a less chunky sauce, crush the tomatoes with your hands. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Add the capers, olives, (and optional artichoke hearts). Season with pepper. Cook another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt, if necessary. This sauce can be prepared in advance and heated when needed.

Cook the pasta in boiling water according to package directions. Drain and mix with sauce, coating well, and serve with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese on the side for garnish. The pasta can also be garnished with fresh chopped basil.

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