Pasta Puttanesca: A Perfect Meal Pulled from Your Pantry

If you’ve heard of this Neapolitan dish, you’ve probably heard its name comes from the Italian word for “prostitute.” In truth, this pungent pasta likely earned its title from its mish-mash of ingredients. According to The Economist’s 1843 Magazine, “The more plausible, if less romantic, origin story goes like this: late one night in the 1950s, Sandro Petti, a restaurant owner from Ischia, an island in the Gulf of Naples, was confronted with a group of hungry diners. They demanded he faccia una puttanata qualsiasi, which roughly translates as ‘make us whatever crap you’ve got.’ Petti’s pantry was almost bare, but he couldn’t let his customers down.” 


No matter the origin, this umami-rich dish can be made with ingredients from your own “almost bare” pantry for a quick but delicious weeknight dinner.  —Chris Fuqua, former sous-chef at San Francisco’s legendary Zuni Café and husband of Cocofloss’s editorial director 

Cook’s Notes

Sicilian-style puttanesca contains green bell peppers; in Palermo, they also add raisins. With all the capers, anchovy, and olives, this sauce can be salty, so I can see where these additions would work. Personally, I like to add a little white wine and let it cook down a bit, so both the acidity and sweetness can act as a foil to all that salt. In the spirit of keeping it simple, I’m just gonna add a little lemon juice at the end. 


Some thoughts on San Marzano tomatoes: They are special! Richer and sweeter than any other canned plum tomato. If the can says “San Marzano,” it doesn’t mean it is. Well, technically it does. The genetic variety is the same. But unless it says D.O.P. (Denominazione d' Origine Protetta) on the label, they can be from anywhere. And there’s something extra special about the tomatoes from San Marzano. No one knows for sure why. Maybe it’s from being grown in the volcanic soils of Mount Vesuvius, maybe some slight genetic variation, or some secret only the farmers know, but they are the sweetest and richest. All that being said, any canned tomatoes will work. 

Pasta Puttanesca


Serves 4 and takes about 30 minutes to make






1 lb. pasta (any will do)


6 cloves of garlic, chopped fine


4 anchovy fillets, chopped


2 big pinches of red chili flakes (to taste)


28 oz. can whole San Marzano tomatoes, strained (save the juice to add back in while cooking)


½ cup black olives, roughly chopped 


3 tablespoons capers, drained and roughly chopped


Juice of half a lemon


Parsley, if you’ve got it








Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and follow directions on the package for the cooking time. Start tasting a minute or two before it’s supposed to be done. Make sure it’s where you want it. Strain, toss with olive oil, keep warm.


Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan on medium-low heat. Add garlic, anchovy, and chili flakes. When you smell the garlic aroma really jump from the pan, add the tomatoes. I really don’t like the smell or flavor of burnt garlic, so prepare to act fast — after just 10 to 15 seconds — then add the tomatoes. Stir and get rough with the tomatoes. Break them up a bit. 


Turn the heat up and bring to a simmer. If the pan seems dry, add a little of the reserved tomato juice. Let simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.


Stir to break up the softened tomatoes a little more, then add the olives and capers. Add a little more of the reserved tomato juice. Then let simmer for another 10 to 12 minutes.


Add the pasta to the pan, along with the parsley and lemon juice. Toss until all coated. 


Serve with grated Parmesan.




Oh pasta, favorite of kids and ladies and tramps the world round, how we love you! But garlic breath from pasta … not so much. Freshly scented Cocofloss helps clear away stinky plaque and food debris, so your breath will go from smelly to smoochable in seconds!  





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