Pasta puttanesca takes a few basic pantry staples—canned tomatoes, olives, garlic, anchovies, and capers—that’s ready in minutes to become a light but lush sauce served over pasta.
This pasta puttanesca recipe could be the ultimate pantry pasta. It may have double the ingredients of another pantry staple pasta, my 5-ingredient cacio e pepe, but with all the ingredients but garlic and fresh basil coming straight from the cupboard, it’s one you can turn to after a hard day’s work (at home or away) or when the last thing you want to do is spend time you don’t have toiling in the kitchen.
Pasta puttanesca is a tomato based sauce with bit of a spicy kick, accented with the briny punch of olives and capers that lushly coats long or short strands of pasta. The prep and method making this recipe are extremely forgiving, and so easy it’s one literally ANYONE could make. Even better, it’s ready in under 30 minutes.
Who’s ready for viva la pasta, baby?
This recipe is brought to you by DeLallo Foods
What Is Puttanesca Sauce?
Pasta puttanesca is a dish that originated in Southern Italy’s Naples somewhere around World War II, where the sweetest fresh tomatoes and olive trees grow plentiful from the rich volcanic soil of Mt. Vesuvius at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Lore has it this dish was made by ladies of the evening who made it for themselves between clients. I wonder if they went easy on the garlic? Anywho…
This pasta is an Italian classic made quickly and easily to become a full-bodied sauced pasta that’s somewhat addictive—like it’s namesakes perhaps?
The no-frills ingredients in pasta puttanesca don’t vary much. Here is what you’ll need:
- The best Italian pasta like DeLallo spaghetti, linguine, or penne
- Extra virgin olive oil, this is my favorite
- Fresh garlic, sliced thin
- Red pepper flakes
- Anchovy fillets in oil
- DeLallo San Marzano style canned tomatoes are sweet, pulpy and low-acid tomatoes with few seeds
- Olives. I use DeLallo calamata olives because it’s what I had, but traditional recipes call for Gaeta (another small black olive)
- DeLallo capers (pickled flower buds that give a burst of flavor)
- Fresh basil
- Grated Parmesan cheese
Anchovies. Really? Yes, Really.
A pantry staple that last long in the tin, anchovies are an anchor ingredient in this dish and shouldn’t be skipped. I hear what you’re saying, and no, they don’t make the sauce taste fishy, breaking down and nearly disappearing into the oil and sauce as they cook.
Anchovies are one of those ingredients that impart umami to any dish. They add a saltiness and savory depth to this simple sauce you’d otherwise miss.
So, how many anchovies do you need? I use 5-6 fillets of DeLallo’s flat anchovy fillets packed in oil. If using anchovies packed in a salt brine, place the anchovies in a small bowl of water under a stream of water for 10-15 minutes, drain, and pat dry to remove the extra salt.
Or, try an anchovy paste. If you find yourself adding anchovies to sauces and don’t want to waste the extra fillets, try anchovy paste where 1/2 teaspoon equals one fillet.
Pasta Puttanesca’s Briny Punch
Olives and capers add the unmistakeable briny Mediterranean flair this dish is famous for.
Classic Italian recipes call for small, pulpy Italian Gaeta olives, but since Greek calamata olives are more readily available, it’s what I’ve used here.
Capers are small, pickled flower buds that give gentle bursts of pickled flavor to each bite. Drain the capers before adding to the sauce.
How to Pit Calamata Olives
Some calamata olives are available already pitted, but I find them to be flat and not as flavorful. Instead, I pit mine myself with a cherry pitter (this is the one I have) or a chopstick or skewer to push the pit through to the other end. Start at the stem side for the best success.
How to Make Puttanesca Sauce
This sauce comes together quickly, making it an easy win for lunch or dinner.
Sauté the oil, garlic, and anchovies with the crushed red pepper. Adding the sliced garlic and red pepper to the oil infuses it with flavor as it warms and breaks down the anchovy fillets. Using sliced olives rather than minced or pressed means the garlic won’t burn as quickly.
Spice it up. If you like your pasta sauce spicy, add another 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes now.
Mash the anchovies as they cook. Use cooking chopsticks or a wooden spoon to gently smash the anchovies into the oil as they heat and soften—these are like the chopsticks I have. This process creates the flavor base of the sauce, with the anchovies melting into the oil, and the background.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Starting with the instructions below.
How to Cook Pasta
Healthy eating starts with eating smart and exercise, something Italians have been doing for centuries—all while enjoying their pasta.
Good quality pasta like DeLallo spaghetti, linguine, or penne is made with the best semolina wheat and made in the old world tradition of extruding the pasta with bronze dies for that nubby, toothsome texture and long, natural drying times instead of baking that speeds up the drying process.
Cook the pasta in water generously flavored with kosher salt.
A good rule of thumb for how long to cook pasta is:
- Cook the pasta just to al denté, 1-2 minutes less than the package directions
- Use 6 quarts of boiling water
- to 1 pound of pasta
- to 3 tablespoons of kosher salt
Always add the salt after the water has come to a boil or it will take longer to boil. Waiting to add the salt also ensures the salt won’t pit the bottom of the pan.
The Best Type of Tomatoes for Puttanesca Sauce
Add the tomatoes and simmer. I use DeLallo San Marzano style tomatoes that are grown in Italy and imported to the U.S. Interestingly, 95% of the San Marzano tomatoes sold in the U.S. aren’t actually from Italy as they claim, and are actually grown in the U.S. instead.
Adding the tomatoes to the olive oil to simmer creates a sweet, jammy sauce that’s rich in flavor without being overly so.
Add the olives and capers. Simmering the briny capers and olives in the sauce imbues an irresistible punch of Mediterranean flavor that perfectly balances the sweetness of the tomatoes.
Finish the Pasta In the Sauce
Finish cooking the pasta directly in the sauce. Cook the pasta 2 minutes shy of the package directions. While it’s tender but still chewy, use tongs to transfer it directly into the sauce to absorb the sauce and finish cooking. Reserve some of the pasta water to add to the sauce if you like it thinner and a bit more saucy.
Garnish and serve. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and sprinkle with fresh slivered basil and enjoy hot. But be excited for leftovers, because this pasta and sauce tastes just as good the 2nd and 3rd day around, warmed up or eaten cold by the forkful straight from the fridge.
What to Serve with Pasta Puttanesca
- Arugula Salad With Shaved Parmesan Three Ways
- Caesar Salad With Garlic Croutons
- Avocado and Tomato Salad
- Avocado Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
- Easy 5-Minute Parmesan Zucchini
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Puttanesca sauce takes basic pantry staples and transforms them into a light but lush sauce over spaghetti or penne in mere minutes. It's an Italian classic made quickly and easily to become full-bodied and oh so wonderful.
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic , thinly sliced
- 6 anchovy filets in oil
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 28-ounce can DeLallo San Marzano diced tomatoes
- 6 ounces DeLallo kalamata olives , pitted and halved
- 4 ounces DeLallo capers , drained
- 1 pound DeLallo spaghetti noodles
- 1/4 cup slivered fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
In a large skillet, warm the olive oil, garlic slices, anchovy filets and crushed red pepper flakes over medium heat. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring as the garlic becomes fragrant and the anchovies begin to break down. Use a wooden spoon or chopsticks to mash the anchovies a bit and incorporate into the oil.
Add the tomatoes and cook for 5-10 minutes for the sauce to reduce and become rich and jammy. Add the drained capers and olives.
As the sauce cooks, bring a large stock pot of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons of kosher salt. Add the spaghetti and cook 2 minutes less than the package instructions. Transfer the cooked pasta to the sauce, toss, and continue to cook for 2 more minutes. Add slivered fresh basil leaves and serve with grated Parmesan.
More Easy Pasta Recipe Ideas
- Pasta Pomodoro Sauce
- 5-Ingredient Cacio e Pepe
- Shrimp Scampi Pasta With Zucchini Noodles
- Spaghetti Alla Carbonara
- Easy Parmesan Buttered Noodles
- 35 Best Pasta Recipes To Make Now
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This recipe is sponsored by DeLallo Foods. As always, thank you for reading and supporting companies I partner with, which allows me to create more unique content and recipes for you. There are affiliate links in this post of which I receive a small commission. All opinions are always my own.