Pasta puttanesca works in more ways than one

It’s been raining all day and I am in the mood for autumn food. Summer foods are green and bright with lemon: autumn foods are brow, red and bursting with umami. Today, I wanted roast beef but not the way it’s normally served. I didn’t fancy the heavy, full protein-starch-greens version of roast beef, but wanted something a little less soporific. Protein and greens only, or, pink meat and red sauce. Enter the puttanesca sauce.

Roast beef, puttanesca and grated carrots. Yummy!

Roast beef, puttanesca and grated carrots. Yummy!

Puttanesca sauce is one of my favourite pasta sauces. It is rich in flavour: garlic, anchovies, capers, olives, tomatoes, parsley and olive oil meld together into a velvety sauce, as punchy or gentle as you want it. It is traditionally served with pasta but makes a great accompaniement to steak or roast beef.

The thing I enjoy with simple Italian cooking – and puttanesca is simple – is the way you can adjust the flavours to your own taste. I like my puttanesca salty with bursts of vinegar from the capers, molto garlic and the velvety texture that a spoonful of too much olive oil affords. If you prefer yours a little lighter, leave out the tomato paste or use fewer capers.


This is the way I like it: there are lots of different recipes for puttanesca and you are free to play with the ingredients until you find your own perfect balance. There shouldn’t be any need for salt what with the olives, capers and anchovies.

Puttanesca does need the anchovies for the full richness of flavour. If they put you off – or if you want to stay vegetarian – substitute with black olive tapenade. It doesn’t have quite the same depth and doesn’t thicken the sauce in the same way, but it takes you somewhere close. It’s still delicious.

The recipe below gives two servings.

Pasta puttanesca works in more ways than one
Serve as a sauce with beef, lamb, meaty white fish or mixed through freshly cooked pasta. Puttanesca works over baked potatoes and makes a gorgeous hot dip for pita bread or toasted sourdough, especially when partnered with skorthalia.
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Italian
  • 4 table spoons olive oil (or the olive oil from a tin of anchovies)
  • 4 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tin anchovies or a quarter tube of anchovy paste
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • A quarter tube of tomato paste
  • 4 table spoons of capers in vinegar
  • 3 table spoons of green olives, sliced
  • 1 small packet of flat-leafed parsley (about 30 grams), finely chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Heat half the olive oil in a saucepan.
  2. Add crushed garlic and cook, making sure not to brown or caramelise the garlic. There's a place for the lovely flavour of crispy garlic, but puttanesca isn't it.
  3. Add the anchovies or anchovy paste and mix together.
  4. Add the tinned tomatoes and the tomato paste and mix.
  5. Add capers and olive (if using).
  6. Simmer for 15-30 minutes. The longer it simmers, the more it thickens and the more intense the flavour.
  7. Just before serving, add the parsley, the last table spoon of olive oil and black pepper to taste.

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About Caroline von Schmalensee

Cooking, eating and drinking is fun as well as necessary. I do food for fun and I write for a living. Good food makes the world a more delicious and satisfying place. Good writing, meanwhile, can make the world a less confusing place.


  1. Pingback: Olive And Anchovy Tapenade, and Other Delicious Appetizers | Seattle Foodshed

  2. I love puttanesca sauce as well. I would suffer eating it without anchovies though.

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