Give me whatever crap: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Even though it’s not tomato season yet in Italy, the other day I was craving for a tomato- based pasta. To be more precise, I was searching for the recipe of Spaghetti alla Puttanesca.
Browsing through the web, I came across Jeremy Parzen’s fascinating blog Do Bianchi. In his post “The origins of sugo alla Puttanesca?”, Parzen explains through research that the origins of Puttanesca sauce – Sugo alla Puttanesca – should not be accredited to prostitutes. Indeed, I always believed that Puttanesca was a sauce that Italian prostitutes prepared to arouse their clients by using aphrodisiacal ingredients – chilies and anchovies – combined with tomatoes, olives and capers.
To explain Parzen’s findings on Sugo alla Puttanesca, I am literally citing an extract of his post “The origins of sugo alla Puttanesca?”:
“But the definitive albeit anecdotal answer to this conundrum may lie in an article published by Annarita Cuomo in the Ischia daily, Il golfo, in February, 2005: “Il sugo ‘alla puttanesca’ nacque per caso ad Ischia, dall’estro culinario di Sandro Petti,” “Puttanesca sauce was born by accident in Ischia, the child of Sandro Petti’s culinary flair.”
According to Cuomo, sugo alla puttanesca was invented in the 1950s by Ischian jet-setter Sandro Petti, co-owner of Ischia’s famed restaurant and nightspot, the “Rancio Fellone.” When asked by his friends to cook for them one evening, Petti found his pantry bare. When he told his friends that he had nothing to cook for them, they responded by saying “just make us a ‘puttanata qualsiasi,’” in other words, “just make us whatever crap” you have”
Based on these findings, I made an assumption – that lead to an experiment. What are the basic things Italian families usually store in their pantries (and refrigerator as well)? With the help of my Italian mother in Iaw, I came up with the following list:
- any pasta format
- cans of tomato sauce or pelati (skinned tomatoes cut in chunks)
- olive oil
- pancetta / guanciale
- Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
- dried chilies
- fresh or dried herbs like basil, oregano and parsley
- salt and pepper
From this brainstorming of ingredients, the first thing that popped into my mind was quite interesting: if I took some of these ingredients and try to come up with a recipe, I could prepare some of Italy’s signature pastas:
- with ingredients 1, 3, 5, and 10 – Pasta Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino
- with ingredients 1-5 and 11 – Pasta al Pomodoro
- with ingredients 1, 6, 8, 10, 14 – Pasta alla Carbonara
- with ingredients 1, 2,5, 6, 8, 9 – Pasta alla Amatriciana
- with ingredients 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11 – Pasta alla Arrabbiata
- with ingredients 1, 8, 14 – Pasta Cacio e Pepe
- with ingredients 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9,11, 12, 13 – Pasta alla Puttanesca
In fact, most Italian pastas are “piatti poveri”, which translates into poor dishes, meaning that traditional Italian dishes are made from cheap and popular ingredients.
So grab “whatever crap” you have in your pantry and treat yourself with…
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
- 400 grs of Spaghetti
- 100 grs of black olives
- 1 tablespoon of capers
- 1-2 garlic cloves
- 2 cans of chunky tomato sauce
- 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- Minced fresh parsley (optional)
- Chili to taste
- 4-6 anchovies (optional)
Note: For this recipe, I used 2 cans of cherry tomatoes but refrained from using fresh parsley and anchovies since I followed the recipe of my mother in law, who omits these two ingredients.
- In a sauce pan, heat oil over medium heat.
- Add garlic and sauté for about 1-2 minutes.
- Add chilies and sauté for about 1-2 minutes.
- Lower heat and add olives and capers and sauté for about 5-6 minutes. This is very important since oil needs to absorb the flavors of olives and capers.
- Add tomato sauce and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
- Meanwhile cook pasta in a large pot until al dente.
- Drain pasta and add sauce, tossing very well until sauce clings well into pasta.