Did you know that Pasta Puttanesca literally means "whores pasta" in Italian? It's spicy, salty, tangy, sultry and delicious...you know, like a...wait, I don't think I like that. I even have a spicy sense of humor and it still bothers me. One of my confessions? I love dirty comedy. I love stand up comedy. Dane Cook makes me pee my pants until he goes too far. Once he goes to far, he's just gross. What? I also have a super classy proper side so I have to keep both sides happy which means it can only go so far. I can handle quite a bit though. I loved "Bridesmaids", profanity and all. I think Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are genius. "Knocked Up" made my year when it came out. And you better bet I love some Puttanesca "whore" pasta. Even if I still firmly believe that "whore" and "pasta" should not be used in the same sentence.
Once while at Ace Hardware, my son held up something and asked me what it was. I replied "It's a rape whistle" (I grew up in LA and it was honestly the first thing I thought of). He promptly ran through the store shouting "Dad! Can I buy this rape whistle?! Can I have this rape whistle?!" Oh, people heard him. To this day, this is one of my favorite stories. These are the kind of innapropriate things I tend to find hilarious. Not necessarily while it's happening mind you. I'm more likely to hide in the aisles completely mortified and pretend I don't know the boy. But after? Pure comedic gold.
Pasta Puttanesca is supposed to be spicy like my sense of humor, but it doesn't have to be. I make it for my children, and they can handle the heat called for in this recipe since it's not very much (In fact they would tell you it's not spicy at all). I'd say it's a 3 on a scale from one to ten. Feel free to add more crushed red pepper flake if you like yours with more heat. Puttanesca is about more than spice though. It's salty from capers and olives and has a nice backbone thanks to a few cloves of garlic and anchovies if you choose to add them. Most chefs would say it's essential to the dish, but I've made it both ways and honestly like it equally with or without. For the record, I am not a real chef. All in all, this is not complicated food, but it sure has spunk. Which makes it one of my favorites, naturally.
Be sure to start this dish and hour before you want to eat. The recipe is simple and easy but the sauce will have to simmer for 45 minutes before you can use it. Alternately, you can make the sauce ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator until ready to use. I love the big rustic chunks of tomato in this sauce. It's my go-to recipe for red sauce.
adapted from My Fathers Daughter, by Gwyneth Paltrow
1lb box penne
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Pinch red chile flakes
4 olive-oil packed Spanish anchovies (optional)
1 heaping tablespoon salt-packed capers, rinsed (I like to use a bit more)
1/3 heaping cup pitted niçoise olives (or a mixture of green and Kalamata olives)
1 recipe Basic Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
A few tablespoons pasta water, to thin
1/4 cup torn fresh parsley, for garnish
First, make your tomato sauce (recipe below). While it is simmering and almost done, Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Drop in the penne. Cook according to package directions.
Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and add the garlic and chile flakes. Cook for about 1 minute, adjusting the heat if necessary to avoid burning the garlic. Add the anchovies and stir for another minute, or until they begin to break down. Add the capers and olives, crushing them gently with the back of a wooden spoon, and cook for 1 minute, or until quite fragrant—it should smell divine. Stir in the tomato sauce and black pepper. Turn the heat to high, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium and let it bubble for about 10 minutes, or until quite thickened. The penne should be perfectly cooked at this point. Drain pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of pasta cooking water. Add pasta to the skillet with the sauce and stir to coat, adding a bit of the pasta cooking water if necessary to get the sauce to the right consistency. It shouldn't be too thick, but also not too soupy. Scatter the parsley over the pasta, add a bit more fresh black pepper, and serve.
yield: 4 cups
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
6 fresh basil leaves
2 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes with their juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat, add the garlic, and cook for 5 minutes. Add basil leaves and stir for a minute. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Turn the heat to high. Bring the sauce to a boil, turn the heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and let it bubble away on low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and crushing the tomatoes with your wooden spoon.