Spaghetti Puttanesca

By Chris Hagan
December 21, 2011
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Author Notes:

Puttanesca has been my all-time favorite pasta sauce since I tasted it for the first time as a teenager. (I believe it was at Avellino's in Fairfield, CT.) I've tried several variations over the years, and this one is truest to the flavor and texture I remember from that first time. I realize that my approach is a little unorthodox--most puttanesca recipes call for the anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flakes to be sauteed in oil at the start of cooking. I prefer to start with a base of hot pepper, oregano, and capers, then add garlic. The aroma is absolutely intoxicating. The anchovy fillets, meanwhile, are mashed to a paste, whipped with softened butter, and added toward the end of cooking, right before tossing the sauce with pasta. As for the pasta itself, I use spaghetti (it all comes back to that memory), but other shapes, like penne, are just fine. The recipe calls for a pound, but you can get away with half a pound if you like your pasta really saucy.

Chris Hagan

Serves: 4

  • 6-8 anchovy fillets, mashed to a paste
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (Turkish/Mediterranean variety)
  • 1/4 cup capers in brine or vinegar (not rinsed), plus a little of the brine
  • 4-8 garlic cloves, minced (how much is a matter of taste)
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons basil chiffonade (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil. Whip anchovy paste with softened butter and set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a skillet or saute pan over medium-low. When the oil shimmers, add pepper flakes and oregano. When they begin to sizzle, add capers and a splash of caper brine. (A cover or splatter screen might come in handy here.) Saute for a couple of minutes, delighting in the heady aroma of fried capers now filling your kitchen/apartment/household. Add garlic and a pinch of salt, stir well, and continue to saute, stirring to make sure the garlic doesn't burn, until golden and soft, a couple of minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and olives, reduce to a simmer, and cover partially. Simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Begin cooking the pasta once you have added the tomatoes and olives to the sauce. Cook until just al dente, 8 or 9 minutes. When the pasta has about 3 minutes left, stir the anchovy-butter mixture into the sauce and continue to simmer. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2-1 cup cooking water. Toss pasta with sauce and a little of the water. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and basil, if using.

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