Weeknight Cooking

Pasta Puttanesca, for Any Kitchen and Any Weeknight

We all harbor secret fantasies of moving away, starting a café, and feeding people. Every month, Sarah Kieffer from the Vanilla Bean Blog will be indulging us with stories and recipes from the Wolners, who own the Blue Heron Coffeehouse in Winona, Minnesota.

Today:  A simple and elegant pasta recipe for long, harried days. 

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When you work in a restaurant, cooking at home can be a bit stressful. In a professional kitchen, there are all the utensils and ingredients you need at your disposal, and everything is laid out in a systematic and efficient manner.

Home kitchens (at least my home kitchen), are not always stocked and managed so nicely. I don’t always have every single ingredient I need on hand, and there is no delivery person I can call to bring it (or someone else that I can send to the store in a pinch). I don’t have the same tools in my drawers as I do at work, and my work space is often invaded by tiny people who aren’t aware that I’m in the middle of something important. 

Cooking with Larry Wolner in his home, however, is very much like cooking with him at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse. True, there aren’t several ovens to speed things along, and we may bump into each other as we fight over counter space, but his presence at home is just the same as at work. Larry looms in his workspace; he peers down as he chops vegetables, stirs soups, and kneads bread. He is a teacher, which means that he is always looking for opportunities to share his knowledge with those nearby.

More: Is your kitchen a disaster zone? Here's how to whip it into shape.

“Come over here, put that camera down,” he’d say to me frequently as he stood by the oven. “Smell this. Can you smell this? This is when you know it’s done.”

I would pause, breathing in garlic and shallots, wine and tomatoes, trying to memorize the scent as it passed through my nose. I thought of summer, with my two small tomato plants soaking in the sun. There was my sister’s house too, where a bottle of red wine is always within reach -- and then cold winter days working at the coffeehouse, where onions and garlic were the base of every comforting soup we served. I smiled as Larry stood there stirring, so glad that there are stories in everything, and that there is always something he can teach me. 

This Pasta Puttanesca is one of Larry’s favorite easy dinners. Inspired by a recipe in Cooks Illustrated, he made this dish his own by throwing it together frequently after long days at work. It’s simple to put together: Shallots, garlic, capers, olives, and anchovies are sautéed together, then cooked down with tomatoes and a splash of red wine to make a sauce that's perfect for spaghetti. Parmesan and basil top things off, and dinner is on the table in almost 30 minutes.

More: Add this ovation-worthy eggplant pasta recipe to your rotation.

"And don’t omit the capers or anchovies!” Larry will tell you quietly, as he puts them in the pan. “Otherwise, you are just making spaghetti sauce. This is so much more than spaghetti sauce.

Pasta Puttanesca

1/2 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, minced
4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, chopped coarse
1 tablespoon capers
4 anchovy fillets, minced
28 ounces canned diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons red wine
Parmesan cheese, grated
Fresh basil leaves, chopped

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Sarah Kieffer

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  • Fran
  • Elizabeth Stark
    Elizabeth Stark
A baker's soliloquy. You can follow along at thevanillabeanblog.com.


Fran October 12, 2014
I love this.
Elizabeth S. October 8, 2014
"This is so much more than spaghetti sauce." Yes!