Pasta alla Puttanesca

Spaghetti ala Putanesca

Spaghetti ala Putanesca

By Cat, Nov 2007 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons, originally from originally from spaghettini alla puttanesca@giggle cafe)

  • See also: 1. Pasta Menu2. Pasta (About)3, Mediterranean Menu;
  • Includes: 1. Basic recipe; 2. Chicken variation; 3. Original Pasta alla Puttanesca, from  Chef Engjell Vrapi of Bigfork’s “When in Rome”

A local restaurant here (When in Rome) serves Puttanesca that is absolutely delicious, with a bit of heat and lots of flavor. Ive included their version (from a magazine article by their chef), served with penne.

For those who don’t speak Italian, Pasta alla Puttanesca translates as Street Walker’s Pasta, and is traditionally made with spaghetti pasta, but linguine or penne can also be used. Anchovy is an essential flavor in this sauce; rather than chopping up whole anchovies, I prefer to use anchovy paste that comes in a tube – it keeps well.

Other than the anchovy, this dish does not normally include meat, but I like to add brined, sauteed chicken breast slices, listed as optional in the recipe. Another idea is to add steamed clams, mussels or shrimp to the dish, with or without the anchovy. See Fine Cooking: Penne alla Puttanesca with Shrimp (3).

Pasta alla Puttanesca

This quick and easy recipe is adapted from Fine Cooking (1); original recipe by Dawn Yanagihara-Mitchell. Serves 4. See also Fine Cooking: Vegetarian Pasta Puttanesca (2)

Generally, tomato pasta sauces work quite well with whole grain or Ezekiel pasta, but you could certainly use regular Durum wheat pasta. I think that 2 oz pasta per serving is enough, but you could make 3 – 4 oz per serving if desired.

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 2 boneless & skinless chicken breast halves (optional), brined for 30 minutes
  • 8 – 16 oz dried whole wheat or spelt spaghetti or linguini
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup pitted, brine-cured Italian or Greek olives, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp capers, drained
  • 3 – 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • scant Tbsp anchovy paste (or 3 oil-packed anchovy fillets, minced)
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (or about 3 cups chopped fresh tomatoes, with their juice)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)
  • Unrefined sea salt, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Equipment:
  • 2 small bowls
  • 1 medium bowl (optional, for fresh-chopped tomatoes)
  • two 3-quart saucepans


  1. Prep: If using chicken: Brine chicken (¼ cup kosher salt and 2 cups water per 8 oz meat) for 30 minutes. Rinse and pat dry, then cut crosswise to make ¼” thick slices. Lightly coat with flour, season lightly with black pepper, and set aside.
  2. Mince garlic and chop olives, placing each into separate small bowls. Add capers to olives.
  3. If using fresh tomatoes, seed then chop them; transfer to bowl.
  4. Bring saucepan of water to a boil; salt it (use Kosher or regular salt), then keep it simmering until ready to cook the pasta.
  5. Pasta: Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp of the olive oil in second saucepan over medium heat. Add chicken slices (if using) and saute about 2 minutes on each side, until lightly golden. Remove to plate to keep warm.
  6. Reduce heat to medium low and add another Tbsp of the olive oil to the pan. Add minced garlic and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes, until garlic is sizzling. Do not let it burn.
  7. Add anchovy paste and red pepper flakes and continue to simmer 1 – 2 minutes more.
  8. Add tomatoes, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil, then reduce to medium-low. Add back chicken pieces (if using), and simmer about 10 minutes, until sauce thickens slightly.
  9. Bring saucepan of water back to a boil (about 30 seconds). Add pasta and cook according to package instructions, to al-dente.
  10. When tomato sauce is ready, add olives, capers and oregano. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  11. When pasta is done, reserve ½ cup of the cooking mixture, then drain pasta well. Return pasta to the hot pot over medium-low heat, and pour tomato sauce over. Toss to mix, adding reserved cooking water as needed.
  12. Serve immediately .

Pasta alla Puttanesca

from Chef Engjell Vrapi of Bigfork’s “When in Rome Ristorante.” I have not made any changes to this recipe.

Serves 2.

  • 1 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 anchovy filets, chopped
  • ½ c Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 3 Tbsp capers
  • ¾ cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1 ½ cup tomato sauce
  • 3 cups penne (dried)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  1. Prep garlic, anchovies, and add red pepper flakes. Slice olives and add capers. Chop tomatoes. Chop parsley.
  2. Boil 4 quarts of water then add 2 Tbsp kosher salt; add pasta and cook uncovered until al dente. Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid.
  3. Meanwhile, heat oil in saute pan over medium heat for 30 seconds. Add garlic/red pepper flakes/anchovies and saute about a minute, taking care that garlic doesn’t burn. Add chopped tomatoes to prevent burning, then cook until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then add olives, capers and half the parsley. Add tomato sauce to the pan; warm & stir until just combined. If sauce is too thick, adjust with reserved pasta water.
  4. Add pasta to pan and toss to combine with the sauce. Serve, garnishing with remaining parsley.

Serving Suggestions for either recipe

  • Pass freshly grated AsiagoParmigiano or Romano cheese as garnish.
  • Serve with garlic bread (using whole grain Ciabatta and freshly crushed garlic mixed into softened butter) and a fresh green salad with basil-balsamic dressing.


  1. Fine Cooking: (
  2. Fine Cookin : Vegetarian Pasta Puttanesca (
  3. Fine Cooking recipe: Penne alla Puttanesca with Shrimp (
  4. Chef Engjell Vrapi of Bigfork’s “When in Rome Ristorante” (

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