Pasta Puttanescafeatured

Pasta Puttanesca roughly translates as “pasta in the style of a whore” – no doubt an enterprising whore who’s a little salty, a little spicy, and has plenty of bite to her. You may be wondering how this dish got its colorful name. Legend has it “ladies of the night” would lure customers into houses of ill repute with the enticing aroma of this sauce simmering away. Alternately, they would make this for themselves because it was a quick and easy meal that wouldn’t take much time away from their biznaz.

Quick, easy, cheap, delicious…qualities any busy working girl/harlot could appreciate. Pasta Puttanesca makes a great spur-of-the-moment meal because it can be thrown together using ingredients in your pantry.

Pasta Puttanesca_pantry staples

Pantry staples

The dish is full of salt and brine – olives, capers, anchovies – flavors typical of Southern Italian cuisine. Canned Italian tuna soaked in olive oil plays well off of the anchovies and tomato sauce, and adds protein and body to the meal.

Pasta Puttanesca_fresh elements

Fresh elements

I’ve thrown in some fresh touches to this Puttanesca, but in a pinch you could omit the eggplant, onion, garlic, or fresh herbs, and the essence of the dish would remain intact.

Chive blossoms

Chive blossoms

I would normally garnish this with fresh oregano or parsley, but a sly groundhog had gotten to them before me. Maybe he too was planning a dinner of Pasta Puttanesca. Luckily, my mom’s garden had a lovely bunch of chive blossoms still intact. The faint oniony twang worked well with the other aromatics, and the tiny purple blossoms even accented the deep hue of the eggplant.

In no time, we had a steaming hearty bowl of pasta to dig into, full of vibrant, sassy flavors. Those ladies of the night were on to something when they came up with this. Who would’ve thought? Whore-y pasta: customer satisfaction, guaranteed.

Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca

Yield: 4 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

A quick and easy pasta dish full of vibrant, sassy flavors (purportedly invented by "ladies of the night" who lured in customers with the scent of this simmering away).


  • 24 ounces tomato sauce
  • 1 pound spaghetti or angel hair pasta
  • 5 ounces Italian tuna, packed in olive oil
  • 2 ounces anchovies, packed in olive oil
  • 1 eggplant, diced (and peeled if you prefer)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olives (green or Kalamata), roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • A handful of fresh oregano, parsley, or chives (finely chopped)


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta.
  2. Over medium heat, pour the olive oil from the tuna and anchovies into a large saucepan. Add the onion and sautee until translucent. Add the eggplant and garlic; sautee until the eggplant is softened and the onions begin to caramelize.
  3. Add the anchovies and stir until they have melted down. Add the tuna, breaking it into small chunks, and sautee for another minute or so.
  4. Add the tomato sauce, olives, capers, sugar, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer. Serve over pasta and garnish with fresh herbs.

This post was published on KQED’s Bay Area Bites on June 8, 2011.

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