My Easy Pasta Puttanesca recipe is a really simple and budget friendly tomato based sauce. Made with a savory mix of anchovies, garlic, olives, hot pepper flakes, and capers. Spaghetti is tossed in this delicious sauce and it's garnished with some chopped fresh Italian parsley. A little bit spicy, and super flavorful!
This classic Italian pasta sauce is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta! The briny capers and olives make every bite of this luscious sauce truly delectable.
Puttanesca sauce has always been on rotation here since it is really inexpensive to make, and comes together in just minutes. And most importantly, even my kids love it! Keep it really simple and serve it right out of the saute' pan.
This is another flavorful pasta dish (like this easy lemon ricotta pasta) that you can enjoy for a date night or make for the kids.
This post contains affiliate sales links. Since I’m super passionate about high quality Italian tomatoes, I was asked to collaborate with the Greatest Tomatoes From Europe and I Love San Marzano DOP campaigns. As always, all opinions are my own.
Why you’ll love this puttanesca sauce:
- Simple pantry ingredients– Truly mo-fuss…you may have all it takes on hand to make this today!
- Easy to modify– This sauce could be modified to your taste. Love garlic? Add more. Love hot pepper flakes, go ahead and spice it up to your liking.
- Just one pot– Yes, the sauce is made in one pot (plus the pot to cook the pasta). So it really is a simple clean up. Keep it even simpler and serve the pasta right from the pan! Easy clean up!
Before we get on to the recipe, we need to discuss a little the infamous name. One of the stories may even make you blush a little bit.
What are the origins of the puttanesca sauce?
The origins of puttanesca are numerous, and there are those that have researched trying to discover the first inventive chef who called this spicy dish ‘puttanesca.' Some say it originated in the Campania region, and some say in the Lazio region.
The sauce was originally called “alla marinara”. It changed to puttanesca sometime after World War II.
There are many theories regarding the origin of the name. Now this is the most scandalous version of the name. Some claim the name and the sauce originated from the Spanish Quarters' brothels, where la puttana was a prostitute/whore. So the story goes that the ladies of the night made this quick and iconic sauce with what they had on hand. But alas, the sordid origin is probably not the correct origin.
If you follow that legend of how this sauce came about, spaghetti alla puttanesca would literally mean "whore's spaghetti" or "spaghetti made in the style of the whore".
Now the version of the story I am more partial to is this one, as seems to be more accurate. So the story goes that it was invented in a famous nightclub called Rangio Fellone in Ischia in the 1950s.
The owner Sandro Petti had a hungry group of friends and nothing to make them. The story goes that Petti's friends told him to “just make us ‘una puttanata qualsiasi,'”, which pretty much means, make something with whatever crap that the owner had on hand.
And so that is what Petti did. He made a quick sauce with tomatoes, olives, capers and some anchovies. For more details on the origins, check out the amazing historian's blog do bianchi.
A quick reference on the first story, I have heard that puttanesca was made by prostitutes for their hungry customers. Hey, it's a budget friendly dish and really fast to make (couldn't resist!LOL).
What ingredients are in the puttanesca sauce:
Here is the list of what you need to put together this delectable puttanesca sauce: (full printable recipe is below):
- Extra-virgin olive oil – The best quality extra-virgin olive oil is worth the investment. You're only using a little bit for the sauce and the flavor really impacts the final result.
- Anchovy fillets – I had a jar of anchovies conserved in hot pepper flakes that I brought back from Calabria last summer. Since they were on the larger size, I used 4. But you could use even up to 8.
- Red pepper flakes – Completely optional, and if you can hand a kick of heat, it will take the sauce to another level. I happened to have spicy anchovies, so I didn't add any while making the sauce. A teaspoon would be all you need!
- Fresh garlic – Use the amount of fresh garlic that you enjoy. 2-4 cloves could work just fine (add more if you like more garlic flavor).
- Sea salt –IF you use anchovies, it will add some more salt to the sauce.
- San Marzano DOP tomatoes – 1 28-ounce can of authentic San Marzano tomatoes is all you'll need. Look for Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP which are the only authentic San Marzano.
- Pitted Gaeta olives (or Kalamata olives)– Olives add some more umami and a little brininess to the sauce.
- Capers – Capers + olives go perfectly together (more umami kick from the capers!).
- Fresh Italian parsley – Italian parsley works best in this recipe, but go ahead and use regular parsley if that's what you have on hand.
A little info on the tomatoes. I'm urging you to look for San Marzano Dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino DOP Tomatoes...they are the highest quality tomatoes with the best flavor!
If you are a lover of authentic San Marzano Tomatoes, I am hosting a recipe contest with I Love San Marzano DOP Tomatoes. Simply email me here (all connected) savoringitaly @ gmail.com your favorite recipe and if you send photos, you get bonus points!
The winner will be awarded a gift pack with Pomodoro San Marzano dell'Agro Sarenese Nocerino DOP tomatoes!
You can visit I Love San Marzano DOP for some more recipes or try one of mine (like today's pasta recipe or this baked penne with tomatoes and eggplant).
How to make this spaghetti alla puttanesca? (full printable recipe is below)
The easy to make sauce comes together while the pasta is cooking. You can actually start it while you put the water for the pasta to boil.
- In a large pot of water (for a pound of pasta, add 1.5 tablespoons of salt). Bring the water to a boil and begin the sauce. As soon as the water boils, add in the pasta.
- It starts out with heating 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in the saute' pan. Once it is hot and shimmers, add in the anchovies (use 4-8, depends on your taste). They will melt into the oil and create the umami base. My anchovies were spicy, but go ahead and add red pepper flakes now (if you like it spicy).
- Next, add in the garlic cloves (keep them whole or mince them...I minced mine) and let it get fragrant (it is quick, less than a minute).
- As soon as the garlic has bit of color, add in the San Marzano tomatoes + juices. Stir and break up the tomatoes with your wooden spoon.
- Next, add in the pitted and sliced olives and the capers. Stir to combine.
- Check the flavor of the sauce. My sauce was salty enough from the anchovies, olives and capers. But you may like a little salt added in. If so, add to your taste preference.
- Lower the heat a little and let the sauce simmer. The sauce thickens as it cooks. So reserve a bit of pasta water when you strain the pasta.
- Just before the pasta reaches al dente, strain it and add it to the saute' pan with the sauce. Raise the heat and stir it to combine and coat the pasta. If the sauce seems too thick, add a tablespoon or so of the pasta water to loosen up the sauce.
- Plate up the pasta with some chopped fresh parsley and hot pepper flakes (if you like).
My most important tip to the sauce...do not skip the addition of anchovies! They are what makes this sauce extra special!Trust me when I tell you, the sauce does not end up with any fishy flavor (even my kids just LOVE this sauce)!
This sauce...yes, you'll want to dive right in! You could even serve the sauce alone with grilled fish or grilled chicken.
Yes, there are versions in Italy where canned tuna is added to the sauce. It is also a delicious way to enjoy the sauce, although, I prefer mine without the tuna.
Which pasta is best to use in this sauce?
I used spaghetti, and that is typically the pasta shape used for this recipe. You could also use bucatini or linguine.
What are the two versions of a puttanesca sauce?
The first version of a puttanesca comes from the Campania region and it is made with fresh peeled tomatoes, capers, black olives, garlic, oregano (sometimes a little spice from peperoncini). The Naples version does not include anchovies.
The second version from the Lazio region replaces the oregano with parsley and anchovies (that is the version I share here, and is the only version I learned how to make).
How much salt do I use to cook dry pasta?
Typically for one pound of pasta, in 3-4 quarts of water, you will need 1-1/2 tablespoons of salt. If you're using 1/2 pound pasta, just use 1/2 that amount of salt.
Since this is a salty sauce from the briny ingredients, you won't need a lot of salt for the pasta water (just use it to your taste, keeping in mind that the sauce will be salty from the ingredients).
Could this pasta sauce be made vegan?
Yes, simply leave out the anchovies. In place, you could add umeboshi paste. This is a flavorful paste made from Japanese fermented plums.
If you have nutritional yeast on hand, you could also use that to get the umami flavors.
Can I make this recipe gluten-free?
Yes, the sauce is naturally gluten-free. Cook up your favorite gluten-free pasta and serve it with the sauce.
How to store this pasta:
When the pasta has cooled, place it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. I do not recommending freezing the pasta and sauce. You could freeze the sauce alone (without the pasta)for up to 2 months.
Some other pasta recipe to try:
My Easy Pasta Puttanesca
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4-6 anchovy fillets to your taste
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional and use more if you like it hot
- 3-4 large garlic cloves minced
- 1 28- ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
- ½ cup pitted gaeta or kalamata olives, sliced
- 4 Tablespoons capers
- salt for the pasta water and optional for the sauce
- ½ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once the water boils, salt it. Bring to another boil, and add in the pasta. Cook it to 1 minute less than al dente.
- In a large saute’ pan, add the extra-virgin olive oil and heat until it’s shimmering. Add in the anchovies and stir with a wooden spoon breaking them up. They will melt right into the oil. If you are making your sauce spicy, add in the red pepper flakes (to your taste).
- Add in the garlic and once it is fragrant and has a little color, add in the tomatoes and their juices.
- Stir with wooden spoon to break up.
- Add in the olives and capers and bring the sauce to a simmer. Check the sauce and add a little salt, if needed. Mine was salty enough from the anchovies, olives, and capers, so I did not add any salt.
- As soon as the water boils, boil your pasta (I used spaghetti and mine was just before al dente at around 8 minutes). Drain the pasta when it is just before reaching al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water.
- Raise the heat of the sauce a little. Add the pasta to the saute’ pan with the sauce. Stir to combine and add a little bit of pasta water if the sauce is too thick.
- Plate up the pasta and add on some chopped Italian parsley. ENJOY!
The puttanesca sauce is absolutely delicious. Yum!
Hi Jeannie-So happy you enjoyed! Thank you!!