Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

(summer is here, bitch!)

Here is a very napolitan pasta dish, very very simple, and yet unexpectedly flavorful. Despite being a very common recipe in my region and all over the south of Italy, credit for this specific version goes to my uncle Antonio, Zio Antonio. The thing is, my mom always cooked this pasta, but it was never that special or good, so I didn’t think much of it. Things changed when I had Puttanesca at Zio Antonio & Pupa’s place, and the recipe was presented to me under a brand new light. Zio Antonio’s trick was simple enough: exaggerate. A lot of tomatoes, a lot of olives and capers, a LOT of basil and parsley. The sauce must be rich!

Puttanesca comes from “puttana”, which is a bit of a bad word to say prostitute. The stories of why this recipe is called so are very many and not that interesting, so I’ll skip that. It’s a very summery dish, very quick, very easy. But you’ll need two key ingredients that might not be so common outside of Italy: anchovies and salt-preserved capers. I can find both of them here in Sweden, so I’m sure you’ll manage. I’ll talk about them and other ingredients in a special note* to the directions for the recipe.

Created with Sketch. 20 minutes Created with Sketch. 4 servings


  • 3 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, halved
  • 4 anchovies (preserved in oil)
  • 30 grsalted capers
  • 100 grolives (kalamata or di Gaeta are perfect)
  • 2 cansof cherry tomatoes (or 1 kg fresh if in season)
  • A lot of fresh basil and parsley
  • Hot chili flakes to taste
  • 400 grof spahetti


*Note about ingredients:

  • Anchovies, or Alici sott’ Olio in italian (in Sweden called sardeller), are cured in salt, and preserved in oil: this tiny fishes are an umami bomb, and  the base for this recipe: one per person is ideal, but feel free to exaggerate.
  • Capers everybody knows what they are, but here you want those preserved in salt. Not water, not vinegar, but SALT: this is very important, the capers, very flavorful little things, contribute a lot to the dish, and you don’t want no vinegar taste in there.
  • Olives: ideally you should use “Olive di Gaeta”, but good luck finding them. However, greek Kalamata olives are really really good for this recipe (I suspect they’re are done pretty much like the Gaeta variety). Don’t use those very black olives, they’re not for this.
  • Tomatoes: if in season, use fresh cherry tomatoes or datterini: but make sure they are good and sweet and rich in taste. Otherwise, canned cherry tomatoes work perfectly.
  • Pasta: my favorite for this dish is vermicelli, a type of thicker spaghetti. But spaghetti, linguine and even bucatini will work nicely.

But let’s cook!

  1. Add the olive oil with the garlic to a tall pan (or a pot) on medium-high, and let the garlic take some color. When the oil is sizzling add the anchovies and with the back of a spoon crash them until they dissolve in the oil.

  2. Quickly de-salt the capers under hot running water, wash the olives a little as well, and add everything to the pan. Stir for 30 seconds then add the tomatoes. Add a little pepper, and hot chili flakes if that is of your liking (do not exaggerate).

  3. Let it cook for 10 minutes on medium (or 15/20 if you’re using fresh tomatoes), after which add half of the parsley and basil finely chopped. The salt from the anchovies and the capers should be more than enough for the sauce, but just in case, taste it and see if you need to add some. Off the fire, add 1 dl of pasta water to the sauce.
  4. Cook pasta by the law as you should know by now, al dente, and AS SOON AS the pasta is drained (don’t wait, PLEASE), throw it in the sauce pan and mix well on medium-low for 2 minutes. Also eat as soon as possible, don’t let it cool down.