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Puttanesca is a sauce on overdrive, basking in a bevy of salty-umami flavors: capers, black olives, anchovies, pepper flakes, and red wine. Because it is so robust, it requires very little embellishment; it’s customarily served with a cavernous shaped pasta, like penne or orecchiette, which collects the chunky sauce’s delectable morsels.
But puttanesca’s culinary utility goes beyond the “pasta sauce” category. Because of its bold flavor, puttanesca is also an excellent vehicle for braising meats (like pork tenderloin) and seafood (like the shrimp below!), seasoning them throughout the cooking process.
The best quality ingredients make the best puttanesca. For the tomatoes, I try to source cans of whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes, Italy’s most prized variety. They are low in acid, soft and velvety, and have a deep tomato flavor. There is a lot of fakery in the San Marzano canned tomato world, so I make sure to buy cans that clearly say “Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese Nocerino D.O.P.” and cost at least $4 for a 28-ounce can. (Real San Marzanos almost never sell for less than that.) For the olives, I use a briny Kalamata or dry oil-cured variety, which have the most dramatic flavor; canned black olives, which are milder, are not the best option for this recipe. Salt-packed capers and anchovies (soaked first to dissolve the salt crust) offer the most intense flavor, but I find brined capers and oil-packed anchovies are a close second, and are usually easier to source. The red wine should be full-bodied to stand up to its competitive co-ingredients—a Cabernet, Syrah, or Malbec could all work here.
Puttanesca’s vibrant ingredients allow cooks to create a richly seasoned tomato sauce in about 15 minutes. No long cooking is required to coax flavors out of this sauce; they are clear and present from the very beginning.
Braised Shrimp Puttanesca is one of my favorite dishes to make with this sauce (and technique), as the shrimp cook exceedingly fast—just give them 4 to 5 minutes nestled in the puttanesca, and serve atop pasta, polenta, or alongside some crusty bread.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 anchovy fillets, whole
- ½ teaspoons red pepper flakes, crushed
- ½ cups red wine
- 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons capers
- ¼ cups Kalamata olives, chopped
- 1½ pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
What's the maverick in your lineup of braising liquids? And what do you like to braise with it? Share with us in the comments!