How to make pasta puttanesca – recipe

<span>Felicity Cloake’s spaghetti puttanesca.</span><span>Photograph: Robert Billington/The Guardian. Food styling: Loïc Parisot.</span>
Felicity Cloake’s spaghetti puttanesca.Photograph: Robert Billington/The Guardian. Food styling: Loïc Parisot.

Spaghetti puttanesca is one of those dishes that is far more than the sum of its relatively humble parts – designed around the store-cupboard staples of the Italian south, it can be knocked up (quiet at the back) in less than 15 minutes, yet will still knock your socks off every time. Keep the ingredients below in stock and you’ll always go to bed happy.

Prep 5 min
Cook 12 min
Serves 2

4 anchovies (optional)
50g good-quality black olives
1 tbsp capers
2 garlic cloves
160g spaghetti
3 tbsp good olive oil
½ tsp chilli flakes
2 tbsp tomato puree
100ml passata
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley or basil (optional)

1 A note on the anchovies

As with so many beloved Italian recipes, puttanesca is a matter of hot debate – vegetarians should note that in Naples anchovies are regarded as optional (if serving to mixed company, omit the fish from the sauce, and instead drape them on top of the finished dish for those who eat them, as Angela Hartnett does with marinated anchovies).

2 Stone and chop the olives

Put a large pan of water on to boil. Remove the stones from the olives, if need be – intensely flavoured small black or dark purple fruit are best here, and I’d recommend buying them unpitted, because they tend to be less mushy. Roughly chop the olives and put them in a small bowl near the hob.

3 Prep the anchovies and capers

If either the anchovies or capers are packed in salt, rinse them off and dry (obviously, there is no need to do this if they’re in oil or brine). Roughly chop both, put the capers in the olive bowl, and keep the anchovies separately, also within easy reach of the hob. Peel and very finely slice the garlic, and keep that separate, too.

4 Cook the pasta …

Salt the boiling water, then drop in the pasta and cook it until it’s just shy of how you like it; if necessary, stir the pot occasionally to prevent the pasta sticking to the bottom. Spaghetti is the most common pasta shape used for puttanesca, but the spirit of this dish dictates that you should use whatever you have to hand; Hartnett suggests swapping it with linguine, while Lidia Bastianich recommends fusilli.

5 … and start on the sauce

While the pasta is cooking, put the oil in a frying pan on a medium-low heat. Once warm, add the garlic and fry until it starts to turn a pale golden colour; it shouldn’t brown. Add the anchovies, if using, and stir to dissolve, keeping the garlic moving, too, so it doesn’t catch and burn.

6 Add the chilli, capers and olives …

Add the chilli flakes, if using, followed by the olives and capers, then turn up the heat slightly and cook until you can hear them sizzling, again being careful not to burn the garlic (if it looks like it’s colouring too much, scoop it out for now and return it to the pan later with the pasta; if it has gone dark and bitter, however, it’s best to remove and discard).

7 … then stir in the tomatoes

Stir the tomato puree into the sauce, followed by the passata (you could also use ordinary tinned whole or chopped tomatoes, but ideally whizz them to a rough puree first, or at least roughly chop them so there are no very large pieces remaining). Turn up the heat slightly, then simmer vigorously for about five minutes.

8 Toss the pasta with the sauce

Check the seasoning of the sauce and adjust as necessary. Drain the pasta well, then tip it into the frying pan. Toss well to combine (if you have them, tongs would be useful here), making sure the olives and capers are well distributed, then divide between bowls. Roughly chop the parsley (I also like torn basil with this instead), sprinkle it over the top and serve.

9 Get-ahead options

You can make the sauce in advance, though, if you do, I’d suggest adding a little more passata and taking it off the heat before it’s fully reduced, because it will thicken further on reheating. And if you really want to get ahead, you can cook the sauce and freeze it. Defrost thoroughly and reheat until bubbling, adding a splash more water if it seems a bit thick.

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