This is one of my favorite pasta sauces.
I could stop my description with that simple sentence because it says everything in those eight words…but I will continue and explain why I am infatuated with this sauce.
Let’s start with balance. I am a big believer in creating balance between sweet, salty, acid and bitter tastes whenever I set out to cook something. Of course, having a bit of umami in the food also helps, but for me, the key is getting the four taste elements to sit together in harmony.
I doubt the original creators of this sauce thought of this balance, but that is certainly what they achieved. The sweet elements come from the cooked tomatoes, stewed onions and slight amount of fat present in the sauce. The acid elements are from the wine, tomatoes and capers. The salty bits come from the olives and capers. The bitter elements come from the pasta tossed into the sauce. And finally, there is a hint of umami from the capers and olives (originally, anchovies were added to the sauce, but I have found adding a bit of the caper brine does the same thing). If done correctly, all these tastes combine harmoniously in the mouth and allow the flavors to burst. It is perfection in a pasta sauce!
Another reason I love this sauce is because it is modular. It can be served as a simple tomato and onion sauce, a tomato sauce with olives and capers or the full puttanesca experience – all depending on your mood or what you serve with it. Personally, I think spaghetti works best for this recipe, although I wouldn’t hesitate to serve penne-type pasta as well.
Puttanesca also has an interesting history – something I like to keep in mind when making classic recipes. The literal translation from the Italian word Puttanesca is ‘in the style of prostitutes.’ There are plenty of theories as to why this Neapolitan sauce took on this name – none of which I can verify. But I think it has plenty to do with the spicy nature of the sauce mixed with the pungent aromas of garlic, capers, olives and originally anchovies. I guess the perfume reminded someone of a prostitute.
Yield: enough for about 4-6 servings
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