Many recipes will tell you that "puttanesca" literally translates to "whore" in Italian. Essentially, the ladies of Naples would whip up this dish because it was so easy and the ingredients were so readily available. Not sure how that translated to "whore" exactly, but perhaps since putting dinner on the table was so easy, they had time to do...well...other things. Debaters of this salacious legend insist that Puttanesca derived from an old word denoting something of "lesser value," poor people food. Food that is common, food that is easy, food that is necessary. The best kind of food, if you ask me.
Not only is it quick and easy, but there is not right or wrong way to make puttanesca. I first discovered puttanesca while watching Lemony Snicket, with Jim Carrey, which I do say is an underrated film. When faced with an empty kitchen, Violet takes all of the ingredients she can scrounge up and dubs the feast "puttanesca." The creativity of puttanesca is what draws me to the recipe, but there are some core ingredients crucial to the dish's pungent flavor. Number one is anchovies...don't get grossed out. To me, anchovies are the depiction of umami. They bring the amazing salty and briny aspect to a dish. If you hate anchovies, but love Pad Thai, hit me up. The dislike of anchovies yet adoration of fish sauce is something I will never understand. Second you need capers. Again a mechanism for salt. I tend to over season my dishes, so I love naturally salty foods. That way, I don't need to add my own salt, and can ensure the dish has enough flavor. Lastly, olives. Olives are always available in my fridge. I like to use kalamata olives for this recipe, but black olives work just as well. You cannot go wrong any type of olive. If I could write a love song to olives I would. It would go something like this "Olive You." Was that cheesy?
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium sized red onion finely sliced
5 cloves garlic minced
14 oz can diced tomatoes with juices
3 anchovy fillets diced (or 2 tsp anchovy paste)
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
2 tbsp drained capers
1 cup dry white wine
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
freshly chopped basil (optional)
Cook pasta according to package directions in salted water. In a non-stick skillet, heat olive oil and cook onions for 5 minutes until soft. Add garlic, anchovies and olives. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add in white wine. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated (3-4 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and their juices, capers, oregano, and red pepper flakes. If the sauce is lacking liquid, add in 1/2 cup of pasta water. Serve pasta with sauce and top with fresh basil.