Pasta Puttanesca

This pasta puttanesca, made with tomatoes, anchovies, olives, and penne is edgy, spicy, and sassy, just like the women it’s named after.

White bowl with ziti and a pasta puttanesca sauce

“Whore’s pasta.” Was ever a name so perfectly suited to a dish? This is edgy, spicy, and just the right side of wrong, conjuring up visions of Neapolitan streets and dangerous women in tight dresses.–Sophie Dahl

LC Hurry It Up Already! Note

When time constraints scream for takeout, consider tossing together this weeknight-friendly pasta instead. The truly impatient should note that this quick recipe can be made even more quickly by relying on a pinch of red pepper flakes rather than a tediously chopped fresh chile and a smidgen of anchovy paste from a tube rather than the slippery real deal. There. That’s one supper situation solved. As for the rest of the week, we’d be quite happy to cook from this book every night, although perhaps that’s in part because we like how it uses the word “Voluptuous” in the title…here’s a demonstration of just how easily this pasta can come together:

Video: How to Make Pasta Puttanesca
Video courtesy of CT Style

Pasta Puttanesca

  • Quick Glance
  • 5 M
  • 30 M
  • Serves 4
5/5 - 1 reviews
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  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 fresh red chile, seeded and chopped
  • Two (14 1/2-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes, drained
  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar (optional)
  • 1 cup black olives, pitted and chopped if desired
  • 12 to 16 ounces penne, preferably spelt pasta (spelt has a lovely light texture and nutty flavor, not to mention a healthful wholesomeness)
  • 4 heaping tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves (you could slip basil in place of parsley if you prefer)


  • 1. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the garlic and chile and sweat. (No, not you, she means to cook the garlic and chile over moderately lowish heat so they slowly, slowly throw off their moisture). Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and then take it down to low heat.
  • 2. Let the sauce simmer while you pull out a pestle and mortar and grind the anchovies with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil into a paste. Add the paste to the simmering sauce and carry on with the simmering for about 20 minutes more. The sauce should be musky and heady.
  • 3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta as directed on the box until it is al dente and drain.
  • 4. You could add 1 teaspoon brown sugar to the sauce here, although I suggest you taste it first and then decide whether you’d like to add it or not. Add the olives to the sauce, spoon it over the pasta, scatter with a big handful of parsley, and pretend you’re in a steamy restaurant in a winding alleyway in Naples.

Recipe Testers Reviews

I can’t believe how fast this was to make, and how good the results were. My husband and I both liked this, and it will be part of my repertoire of weeknight recipes. I used a chile pepper, anchovies (as opposed to paste), and basil (not parsley), and didn’t add the brown sugar. I’m a deep down, true blue pasta lover and was quite impressed with the spelt pasta, which I had not tried before. It’s better than whole-wheat pasta (yuck!).

So easy and fast! It took longer for the water to boil than it did to throw together this sauce. I found that 4 cups of penne worked out to about 14 ounces, and since packages of pasta range from 12 to 16 ounces, I suggest you just use the whole package and figure you’ll either have a bit more pasta or a bit more sauce. This is one of those dishes where you won’t taste the anchovies because they just meld into the sauce, but you also definitely don’t want to leave them out. I threw in chopped basil since it’s what we have growing. The whole thing was garlicky, salty, and spicy enough to make us happy.

This pasta puttanesca is a keeper. It’s easy and flavorful. I added capers to mine because, well, I like it voluptuous…


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  1. One of my favorite easy-quick recipes, and glad that you mentioned using oil-cured olives.
    But—what’s with the garlic?? Waaaay too much.

      1. Thank you for your reply! Yes, it’s perfect otherwise, and I make it sometimes. In our family though, we use garlic sparingly, not as a vegetable. I realize that 4-6 cloves is what many recipes call for. Musta been pretty awful for those legendary Italian customers.
        You do a really fine job in your blog.

        1. Thank you, AmericaBeautiful. I guess being Portuguese, I can’t resist garlic! There something called refogado, which is a mixture of slowly sautéed onions and garlic, which is then used as a base for just about everything. So many recipe begin with, “Faz um refogado…” Make a refogado.

  2. I had a good giggle when reading about how to sweat the garlic. As a transplanted Yank to England about 8 years ago, I had to learn an entirely, new vocabulary if I wanted to cook here. Things here are sweated, not sauteed and that’s just the beginning! This recipe is a fine one. Ms. Dahl (now Mrs. Jamie Cullum) had a very good TV show here awhile back. I, too, add capers and we use Gran Padano as a finishing touch. I like it so much better than the old parmesan cheese of olde.

  3. I love pasta recipes – so easy to make and delicious. And your picture just makes me want to gobble it all up right now. I always use San Marzano tomatoes, they are the best!

    1. Daniel, it’s not a cop out, but I’d add to taste. Each brand of paste is a bit different, some are saltier, some are oilier, etc. I’d add the paste a bit at a time until it’s perfection.

  4. Too funny Marcella and so very right. I love this recipe and have tried it also with tuna instead of the anchovies and kids LOVE IT. Also another thing I often do with anchovies as some may find it too strong of a taste, I leave them in milk for a few hours then pat dry them and it softens its taste.

  5. hmmm… I feel it quite unnecessary to use a mortar and pestle for the anchovies. Just throw them in the hot skillet before adding the tomatoes: the sheer warmth from the oil will help dissolve them in no time. Mash them a little with your spoon, then add the tomatoes, and on you go – I don’t like to use mortar and pestle, mainly because my pestle is made of wood and it would be a pain to make the fishy smell go away :)

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