Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca, An Italian Classic

spaghetti alla puttanesca

Simple and flavorful, Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is an Italian classic that can be prepared with a few ingredients that you may already have in your kitchen; tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic and olive oil. It’s a perfect weeknight meal as it can be on your table in around 30 minutes.

pasta puttanesca
Pasta Puttanesca, An Italian Classic That Is Quick And Easy To Prepare

There are as many explanations for the origins of pasta puttanesca as there are ways on how to prepare it. Some say a restaurant in Ischia created the first puttanesca, while others say that “ladies of the evening” in Naples created it because they needed something cheap and quick to prepare. It’s most likely to have originated in one of two regions, either Campania or Lazio, Italy. The two regions versions are a little different but both are excellent. In Naples, the capital of Campania, the sauce is based on tomatoes, olive oil, black olives from Gaeta, capers, garlic, chilies and oregano. In the region of Lazio, the sauce is made with the addition of anchovies and parlsey. Either way it is made, the flavor is irresistible and the well known dish can now be found all over the world.

Gather your ingredients, do a little prep work, start the sauce and put on a pot of water to boil for the pasta. By the time your pasta is cooked, the sauce should be finished as well. It is as easy as can be. What are you waiting for, give pasta puttanesca a try.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Serves 6 to 8 as a first course, 4 as a generous main course, adjust the recipe accordingly

  •  16 oz. dried spaghetti (figure 2 oz. of pasta per person)
  •  3 – 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  •  4 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced or minced
  •  1/2 tsp. more or less, crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  •  4 anchovy fillets, chopped, or 2 tsp. of anchovy paste (optional)
  •  1/2 c. pitted black olives (Gaeta olives are traditional but Kalamata olives may be substituted)
  •  2 Tbsp. capers (if using salted capers, rinse well and dry)
  •  1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes (good quality San Marzano tomatoes are recommended)
  •  Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  •  a small handful of fresh parsley, chopped fine

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil over medium heat then add the garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano, and anchovy. Stir until the anchovies have dissolved, about 2 minutes then add the olives, capers and tomatoes. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and cook about 10 minutes until slightly reduced. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add in half the parsley and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions, stirring occasionally. When pasta is al dente, transfer it to the sauce using tongs and cook another 2 to 3 minutes. Add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta cooking water, if needed and toss until the sauce is creamy and coats the pasta. Serve the plates and garnish with the remaining parsley.

I suggest using San Marzano canned tomatoes. They will be labeled as “Pomodoro S. Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino“. These certified tomatoes are only sold whole or in fillets. To know they are true San Marzano Tomatoes, look for the certification seals of both the DOP and the consortium as well as a certification number located on the backside of the label.

Salt only after tasting towards the end of cooking as the olives, capers and anchovies all have salt.

I like to use anchovy paste in a tube instead of whole filets as it is easily stored in the refrigerator. Either are great in this recipe.

When garden fresh tomatoes are in season, they can be used for a delicious fresh sauce.

Spaghetti is normally used in pasta alla puttanesca but if you prefer another pasta, linguine, small rigatoni or penne go well with the sauce.

Some people add Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano but it is not traditionally used in this dish if you use anchovies.

Notes From The Kitchen


Most all of us have pasta, oils, spices and canned goods that we stock in our kitchen pantries that can be the building blocks of our daily cooking. They can be quickly turned into a delicious homemade meal and I believe that spaghetti alla puttanesca is one of those dishes.


Posted by

I travel the back roads of the world, sharing great food and interesting places and enjoyable pastimes.

44 thoughts on “Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca, An Italian Classic

  1. I have most of this in the house and a cyclist who will have ridden 400 miles in the past four days coming home. Maybe if he’s not sick of pasta yet, this would be the perfect welcome home dinner. If not tonight, then very soon! Thanks for sharing this!

  2. That’s an absolute classic. I have a little clipping from the Sunday Times, from 1992, sent to me in Barcelona. I’ve traveled round the world with it tucked away inside a book called Spanish Regional Cooking. It comes out from time to time when I want a quick supper using handy canned ingredients from the larder.

  3. Yes – a true classic. And one of our favorites. We definitely prefer the version with the anchovies! And, I learned a new “rule” from our Italian neighbors: pecorino (or parmigiano) is okay with tinned fishes – like the anchovies in this dish. Also canned tuna, and sardines. But never a lot. Just a light dusting.

  4. I love this dish! So good, and so easy. Haven’t made it in a couple of years (why is that??!!!!) — you’re really inspiring me to make it again. Yours looks wonderful — thanks!

  5. Such a great classic and you’re right that most of us usually have all the ingredients to hand and so it’s a great fallback meal but absolutely fabulous. Thanks for reminding me of it 🙂

  6. I had Spaghetti alla Puttanesca only once or twice, but many years have passed since that. I need to make it again as it’s one of the most unique and interesting pasta flavour combinations. Also, I would like to note your excellent skills on plating spaghetti. Oh man, every time I photograph spaghetti, I struggle a lot, and the plating looks like a mess anyway lol.

  7. You’re absolutely right: I do usually have olives and capers in the fridge! And I make a red sauce pretty regularly, so why I don’t think to make a puttanesca, God only knows! Thanks for the inspriation!

  8. As much pasta as I’ve consumed over decades I don’t recall ever making this choice in a restaurant, and I know I’ve never made it. I think it’s the olives that has me saying this is a winner! I can almost taste it. This is a perfect meal, I think!

  9. I only buy San Marzano tomatoes with the DOP certification but recently I saw a travel show and they indicated that there is only about 100 square kilometres near Mount Vesuvius that are actually certified San Marzano tomatoes! I have my doubts that 100 square kilometres can supply the world with certified tomatoes. Notwithstanding, the dish is a beautiful representation of summer.

  10. It’s so weird because Puttanesca is one of those pasta dishes that I get when I see it on the menu, but I’ve never made it at home. I’ve got everything but the anchovy paste and I can easily pick up some of that. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

  11. Puttanesca has always been one of my absolute favorites, and your recipe looks fantastic! For me, the crushed chile flakes are a must. 🙂 ~Valentina

  12. Karen, I love a good puttanesca! I love that it’s quick and so so tasty! All my favorite things in here. Glad you add the anchovies – they are definitely underutilized sometimes, but necessary in good Puttanesca! I’m always looking for quick pasta recipes, so thanks so much!

  13. One of my favourite sauces too! (Though I didn’t know the anchovy version! I must absolutely test it because I’m a big fan of anchovies!). I’ve made this sauce at least three times in the past weeks because I’d discovered a source of amazing tomatoes at my closest farmers market. It’s not always obvious to find delicious tomatoes here, so I often prefer to use good canned brands instead of watery fresh ones, but when they are really good, the sauce is amazing!

  14. Karen,
    This dish must be a classic in every bite. I love how you have given those extra bits of helpful suggestions to turn this pasta into a lip-smackingly delicious dinner. My girls crave pasta every Friday. So, this is on. Thank you!

  15. One of my favorite dishes ever Karen! Your Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca looks absolutely perfect. The origin stories for this dish are absolutely fascinating!

  16. Im drooling just looking at your photo of that Puttanesca pasta. It’s one of my favorites when we are in an Italian restaurant. I’ll have to use your recipe to make some. I enjoyed reading the stories about the recipe’s background too.

  17. Oh how we love this dish! Simple and so delicious! Puttanesca is always a favorite! Thanks for reminding us… we need to make it soon, Thanks Karen!

  18. Especially our children love spaghetti more than the us! But this recipe looks really different and new for us. I haven’t tried it with anchovy and olive oil. Ingredients are so rich and healthy. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s