April 15, 2008

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Here is another staple from Campania. It is funny that a lot of Italian dishes have an utterly obscure and inglorious name – alla puttanesca means something like in the way whores do. Although this recipe seems to be very traditional, apparently its name is fairly recent. And nobody knows exactly why it is called that or what its exact origin is. In fact, some people claim it’s a Romanesco dish (from Rome) and not from Campania. I could imagine Mamma Roma (Anna Magnani’s character in the homonymous film by Pasolini) preparing this dish in the Mussolini-built Roman suburbs. Well, Naples and Rome are pretty near so they share a lot of ingredients in their respective regional cooking.

1 pound spaghetti
25-30 oz passata di pomodoro
(tomato sauce)
4 anchovy fillets
1 Tbsp capers
2 garlic cloves, chopped
12 black olives, chopped
1 bunch Italian parsley
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, peperoncino

In a saucepan sauté the chopped anchovy fillets with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and peperoncino and continue sautéing for a couple of minutes, until the garlic is slightly golden. Add the passata di pomodoro (uncooked and lightly seasoned Italian tomato purée), the olives and the capers. Bring it to a simmer.

Cook the pasta following the label instructions. When the pasta is al dente, drain and toss over the sugo alla puttanesca (the sauce). Stir, serve with chopped parsley and enjoy.


When sautéing the anchovies you’ll obtain a kind of paste. So you won’t have any of the fishy flavor or the texture that some people dislike about anchovies. Don’t even think about adding parmigiano reggiano cheese. Here cheese would overpower the flavors and all the fishy taste will eventually come back directly into your mouth. If you’re not completely convinced about the anchovies, try at least anchovy paste. If you can’t find passata di pomodoro you can use San Marzano canned tomatoes instead.

Capers aren’t seeds or fruits. Capers are flowers, before they open (buds). The best capers come from the Isole Eolie (Aeolian Islands), a volcanic archipelago formed by seven islands northeast of Sicily. They are called that because of Eolo (Aeolus), the ancient king of the wind. And if you sail there you’ll understand why the ancient Greeks associated this island with Eolo. In fact, it is not at all uncommon to be unable to sail because of mare troppo mosso, that is to say, too much wind and waves on the sea. The beaches here are spectacular with a turquoise sea color that I have never seen before, and the weather is nearly perfection. In the island of Salina they have the most wonderful capers. They are tangy, perfectly formed and so flavorful. Actually it is in the Isole Eolie where you can find Italians who eat capers in their salads: there they just love capers and they use them in everything. In the rest of Italy they are often used in tangy and spicy sauces, like sugo alla puttanesca.

Posted by Daziano at 7:54 PM |  
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