This quick and easy pasta recipe is perfect for a hearty meal and also a romantic occasion. It’s been a while since I did a lockdown “can’t travel so cook it” blog post, mainly because I’ve been spending a little more time travelling, or at least planning to travel, and less time cooking.

Fear not, as I dug back into my notes and found a delicious, rustic Italian recipe that I learnt whilst living in and travelling around Italy in the 1990s.


The Story Behind the Dish

Naples pexels-kevin-6015199

This dish originates from the winding back streets of Naples and in English, its name Spaghettoni Puttanesca, roughly translates to Prostitutes’ Spaghettoni. “Putta” is often used as an insult in Italian (and similar in Spanish) and can mean “bitch”, “whore” and is sometimes accompanied by making an inverted V shape with one’s fingers and shaking the hands in front of your hips.  Watch Italian footballers closely after the referee gives a decision against them. They’ll start with a prayer like pleading symbol, putting their fingertips of both hands together to make a steeple pointing to the sky and holding it in front of their mouths. If the referee ignores them (if he’s not looking) they’ll quickly flip the same handshape upside down to switch from pleading to insult. I used to love watching Italian’s converse, probably 90% was body language and symbols and was absolutely fascinating to watch.

Italian Pasta Puttanesca Recipe 1

Back to the dish. The story goes that it was a hearty, low-cost dish made from readily available ingredients that were cooked up in the brothels of Naples to provide sustenance for the working girls. This dish has a fair bit of garlic in it, and the original would have had a lot more, so I like to believe another tale about this dish.  The extra garlic was used to ward off drunken, overly amorous male clients and to prevent them from trying to kiss the girls.

The Recipe for Puttanesca Pasta

Anyway, here’s the recipe which is quick and easy to make and tastes absolutely delicious. You can replace the spaghettoni with spaghetti or something similar if you wish, but I prefer the former as it soaks up the sauce better and tastes even more delicious. It serves 2-4 people depending on whether you have it as a “Primi Piatti” (a kind of in-between starter and main course dish) or the main course. For fewer or greater numbers of diners, just multiply each of the ingredient quantities accordingly.

The Recipe Ingredients

  • 500g of halved cherry tomatoes
  • 200g of quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp dried chili flakes (I use Pul Biber which adds another layer of flavour, but any chili flakes, or chili powder, or even Cayenne Pepper will do)
  • 6 anchovy fillets drained and roughly chopped
  • 3 tsp capers
  • 100g pitted black olives, sliced
  • 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • 1-2 tsp optional herbs such as oregano or thyme
  • Ground Pepper to season (salt isn’t needed as there’s enough in the capers and anchovies)
  • Dried spaghettoni or spaghetti if you can’t get it, enough for each diner
  • Parsley (roughly chopped) to garnish

The Recipe Method

On a medium heat, heat up the olive oil in a large non-stick saute pan, frying pan or even wok. Add the chopped red onion and saute for 10 minutes until soft and coloured. Stir regularly and don’t let it burn or go deep brown.

Add the garlic, chilli and anchovies to the pan and cook for a further 3 minutes, again being careful not to burn the garlic as it will lose its sweetness and become bitter.  If it’s burning either turn down the heat or add a little wine or water (a few drops) which will make it sweat instead of burning.

Next add the capers, olives and halved cherry tomatoes.  Give them a gentle stir and let them cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Stir every so often to prevent them from sticking to the pan. They should soften and break up nicely.

Add some oregano and/or thyme if you wish.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the pasta, cooking as per the timings on the packet. Reduce the time by a couple of minutes if you want authentic “al-dente” pasta. 

After 5 minutes, increase the heat, wait 30 seconds then add the wine.  Let it sizzle and evaporate a little then give the mixture a stir to de-glaze the pan and get the flavours from the other ingredients into the sauce. Reduce the heat so the sauce just simmers slightly and cook for another 5 minutes stirring occasionally. 

Once the pasta has cooked, gradually add some of the pasta water to the sauce until you get a consistency, you’re happy with (not too runny).

Italian Prostitute Pasta Receipe Spaghetti Puttanasca

Drain the pasta in a colander, give it a shake to remove excess water, then add it to the pan with the sauce.  Add the remaining quartered tomatoes and give it a stir so the pasta is well coated. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes then add the parsley and give it a final stir.

Serve in warmed bowls, no grated cheese. Toss some mixed green leaf salad in a bowl with a pinch of salt, balsamic vinegar and olive oil as an accompaniment. Enjoy.

Delicious Garlic Bread Side

Italian Garlic Bread Recipe

The dish goes really well with toasted garlic bread, which is really easy to make. Soften some butter in a ramakin, grate in a clove or two of garlic, grate in some parmesan cheese and some finely chopped parsley. Mix it all together then spread on thickly sliced ciabatta, the kind you buy half-baked which you finish cooking yourself. Toast it under the grill for about 10-15 minutes until the top goes brown and crispy and serve warm.  It’ll stay soft and fluffy inside and will be a delicious way to mop up the juices of the puttanesca sauce.


After travelling internationally on business for multiple decades, I have decided to take early retirement. I am now fulfilling two dreams. To travel more slowly and to write my own thriller novels.

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