Vegetarian Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Ignore the Chicken.)

Italian, Main Courses, Meatless, Pasta / Monday, April 14th, 2008

Pasta Puttanesca

My sister’s birthday is this week. She’s threatening to stay in bed.

Oh, don’t feel sorry for her. She’s got looks, she’s got brains, she’s got talent. She’s hilarious. She has a big heart, a way with people, and very well-behaved hair. Woe is her.

What she lacks is perspective.

I mean, what are you before 30? A fetus with a driver’s license.

So, in preparation for my sister’s Triple X, here’s a bold, spicy, delightfully inappropriate recipe: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (“pasta in the way a prostitute would make it”). No one really knows from whence this classic Italian dish got its name. I’ve read that maybe it’s because a.) the dish is spicy, b.) it was sold cheap to lure hungry men into brothels, or c.) it’s a quick-prep meal that the ladies could cook and eat between appointments.

Recipes, like people, are more interesting with a little history.

Pasta alla Puttanesca

Adapted from Jack Bishop’s “The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook”

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 15 large black and/or green olives, pitted and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers, rinsed
  • Salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti
  1. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta.
  2. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and hot red pepper flakes and sauté over medium heat until the garlic is golden, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes, olives and capers. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes soften and the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed.
  4. When the water comes to a bowl, add salt to taste and the spaghetti. Cook until al dente and then drain.
  5. Toss the spaghetti with the tomato sauce and mix well. Serve immediately.

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8 thoughts on “Vegetarian Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Ignore the Chicken.)

  1. Oh, I love pasta puttanesca. But what about anchovies? They’re so good in this dish! I’m guessing the Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook leaves them out, but hey, if you’re adding chicken…

  2. Wow, that chicken looks so blackened — is it grilled on a real grill, or do you have a stove-top trick?

    BTW, I found your blog because Ezra Pound has always automatically conjured the image in my mind (and taste in my mouth) of pound cake, so I finally decided to google it.

  3. Should I be insulted, even though it’s stated there’s no correlation, that mention of me brings out recipes involving ‘working’ women? I would imagine it got that name because they didn’t have a bowl of cheerios and some poor girl was tired at the end of the day and didn’t care.

  4. One person’s insult is another person’s tribute. Would you rather be compared to oatmeal? Saltines? I think not. You are bold and saucy. Live with it.

  5. Spaghetti alla puttanesca is thus named because it can be made using only the contents of a whore’s refrigerator; or so the story goes.

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