Puttanesca is one of those classic sauces that I’ve always thought would be tasty, but avoided for one reason or another. The reason in this case was anchovies. The only anchovies I’ve ever eaten have been in caesar salad, where they’re really almost indetectable. Oh, and of course once, when the boys at the Bella put one on a pizza I ordered. That was kind of them.
But besides the anchovies, it sounded right up my alley: simple, cheap ingredients, spicy AND salty, and full of capers and olives, two of my favorite things. After reading about it in the Globe last week, I thought that this was finally the time. The time to buy some anchovies.
Puttanesca really is one of the simplest of sauces. At it’s most basic it contains only oil, garlic, anchovies, and tomatoes. I looked at a few variations (all of them had these basic ingredients), and cobbled together something that ended up pretty freaking awesome, and not fishy tasting at all. This recipe ended up a little spicier than perhaps it was meant to. I sometimes have a heavy hand with the crushed red pepper. Then again, maybe it is supposed to be spicy. It’s named after whores, after all.
Penne alla Puttanesca for two
- A cup or two of penne (I use whole wheat–yes, say what you will, but I need to get my whole grains somewhere, and I like the extra texture and bite that whole wheat pasta has.)
- 1-2 T. olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 anchovy fillets (About that much, anyway. They sort of fell apart as I was pulling them out of their little tin.)
- about 1 tsp. capers
- 6 or 7 kalamata olives, pitted (just crushed them with the blade of a knife, and pull the pit out)
- 1 can of diced tomatoes (I used the kind with Italian herbs already in it)
- 1/4 c. or less of red wine
Yes, this is really all you need for puttanesca:
(Er, only one of those cans of tomatoes, though.)
Put the water on to boil first, unsalted. There is enough saltiness in the sauce that the pasta doesn’t really need extra. Prepare all your ingredients while the water is coming to a boil. This really only involves mincing garlic, de-pitting olives, and opening the tomatoes and the anchovy tin.
I usually put the garlic, red peppers, and oil in the pan while the pan is heating, so that the garlic doesn’t burn, which I have a tendency to do. Add the anchovies, and kind of smoosh them around a bit with the back of the spoon so they start to break up. Then add the capers and olives. I let it sit for a minute or two, and started to break the olives up even more with the spoon, before adding the tomatoes and wine.
If you put the pasta in the boiling water at the same time that the tomatoes and wine go in the pan, they should be done about the same time (probably less for the pasta if you’re not using whole wheat). Bring the tomato and wine and stuff mixture to a boil, and then turn the heat down to a high simmer.
Mine was very liquidy, and I wanted it thicker, so I simmer it pretty vigorously. You might want it more liquidy, in which case a mild simmer is probably ok. When the pasta is done, just strain it and add it to the sauce, and then stir it around so everything is all coated with tomatoey salty goodness. Another thing you might want to do is let the pasta finish cooking in the sauce. Just a thought.
I just topped it off with a little parmesan, which you can do, too, if you like that kind of thing, and took it straight to the living room with a hot toddy, to settle in and watch Sense and Sensibility. I suppose some kind of Italian movie would have been better, but I’m on a Jane Austen kick right now.
This was so easy, I will definitely have to do it again–I mean, what else am I going to do with the rest of those anchovies? Not to mention, it was really tasty.