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Published May 12, 2023. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
This incredibly flavorful classic Italian puttanesca sauce recipe has tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, and anchovies tossed in herbs and pasta. Puttanesca was one of the first sauces I learned to make when I began my culinary journey over 26 years ago, and it’s still one of my favorites.
Puttanesca is a zesty sauce comprised of tomatoes, onions, capers, olives, anchovies, and garlic and is commonly served with pasta. On a restaurant menu, it will often say alla puttanesca, which means with the sauce. This sauce has a couple of minor variations, including herbs and chiles. Regardless, you can make this pasta work to your liking.
There are a couple of stories on where this sauce came from, starting with its origin in brothels, specifically in the Spanish quarters in Naples where the puttanas, translated to prostitutes, would feed themselves and clients.
Another story claims that the word puttana stems from the Latin word for putida, which means stinking. This would make sense considering the strong aromas from the ingredients in the pasta.
The last claim states that a chef in the famous Ischia restaurant in Italy had nothing much left to serve some hungry customers. He just threw together whatever ingredients he had, translating from “puttanata qualsiasi,” which means prepared as it comes. Make it simple with no frills. It’s just a simple Spaghetti Sauce.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Tomatoes – I prefer to use whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes, or freshly canned tomatoes, that are then crushed by hand.
- Capers – Use drained canned or jarred capers.
- Olives – The classic olive to use is the Gaeta olive. However, you can use kalamata olives.
- Chiles – A seeded spicy red pepper, such as a Fresno or red finger pepper, will work.
- Anchovies – You can serve these anchovies as whole fillets or chopped up. I prefer to use anchovies in olive oil instead of water.
- Garlic – Thinly sliced garlic cloves will add great flavor to this. If you love garlic, feel free to add more.
- Parsley – Some fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley will add freshness to this dish. You can also add 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh oregano.
- Oil – Always use a good expeller-pressed olive oil.
- Pasta – I like to use either spaghetti or linguine in this pasta puttanesca
How to Make Puttanesca
Add the oil to a large saucepan over low to medium heat.
Stir in the garlic and cook just until fragrant. This will only take 30 to 45 seconds.
Next, stir in the chiles and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the anchovies and capers and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour in the tomatoes and stew over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes to infuse some flavors.
Finish the pasta by stirring in the olives, parsley, salt, and pepper. Set it to the side.
Drop the dried pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until al dente.
Drain the pasta and add it to the saucepan and toss it together.
Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper, and serve in a bowl with additional fresh chopped parsley.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: This is meant to be eaten as soon as it is finished being made.
How to Store: Cover the pasta and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. This will not freeze well.
How to Reheat: Add the desired amount of pasta to a medium-sized saucepot, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water, and heat over low to medium heat while continually gently stirring with a spoon until hot. Adjust seasonings and serve.
Chef Notes + Tips
- Any pasta shape will work for this recipe.
- If you are using fresh homemade pasta, note the timing of assembling this recipe, as fresh pasta will only take 1 to 2 minutes to cook.
- Substitute the fresh chiles with 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes.
More Pasta Recipes
Pasta Puttanesca Recipe
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 thinly sliced garlic cloves
- 1 seeded and small diced Fresno pepper
- 4 roughly chopped anchovy fillets
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 28 ounces whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
- ½ cup pitted and sliced Gaeta or Kalamata olives
- 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley + more for garnish
- 1 pound dried spaghetti pasta
- sea salt and pepper to taste
- Add the oil to a large saucepan over low to medium heat.
- Stir in the garlic and cook just until fragrant. This will only take 30 to 45 seconds.
- Next, stir in the chiles and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Now, add the anchovies and capers and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Pour in the tomatoes and stew over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes to infuse some flavors.
- Finish the sauce by stirring in the olives, parsley, salt, and pepper. Set it to the side.
- Drop the dried pasta into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 7 to 8 minutes or until al dente.
- Drain the pasta and add it to the saucepan and toss it together.
- Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper, and serve in a bowl with additional fresh chopped parsley.