Over the years I’ve woven many yarns about wines that tell a story. From Soffocone to Scacciadiavoli, the boundaries of the tales seem limited only by imagination. Such folklore extends to Italian food as well. Be it the tortellini created after a chef stared at a woman’s navel through a keyhole in her bedroom door, or the Carbonara which reflects the coal miner’s breakfast after a long hard night below the surface of the earth. These legends leave nothing to the imagination when it comes to the topic of today’s article: Puttanesca.
Many times, Italian etymology is not easy to decipher but in this case, it’s fairly straight forward. Puttanesca means “Sauce of the Hooker”. Putta is slang and derives from the Italian word for prostitute, ” puttana” and “nesca” means sauce. While your imagination runs wild with the meaning, especially given the fact that *the* key ingredient in the dish is anchovy, allow me to develop the legend further.
Puttanesca is said to have been created in Naples. The sauce is very fragrant and tale says that the aroma used to waft into the streets and lure men into houses of ill repute. Another version relies on the simplicity of the dish; hookers simply prepared it between clients because it was quick and easy to make. Whatever you choose to believe, one thing is true. The dish is simple to make, incredibly fragrant and absolutely delicious.
Pasta alla Puttanesca
1 pound spaghetti or linguine
1 28oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
4 salt packed anchovies, rinsed and diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped
1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
About 3 oz. of medium sized capers
About 4 oz. Gaeta olives, pitted and chopped
Large handful of fresh parsley, chopped
In a pan large enough to hold the finished pasta, sauté the garlic and onion in a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Once the onions soften, after about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Use tongs to break up the tomatoes.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of salted water, add the pasta to cook. When you add the pasta to the water, simultaneously add the olives, anchovies, capers and hot red pepper flakes to the sauce. Let the sauce simmer until the pasta is done. At this point, everything is ready.
Once the pasta is al dente, add the parsley to the sauce and drain the pasta. Mix with the sauce and stir through allowing the pasta to absorb some of the flavor from the sauce. Reserve some of the pasta water before draining and if the sauce seems to “tight” you can add a bit of the pasta cooking water.
This dish was nothing short of spectacular. It came out great. You can taste the brine from the anchovies, the fragrance from the parsley and the onions, the San Marzano are sweet and succulent and the crushed pepper adds the perfect amount of heat. It’s easy, cheap and delicious.
To drink, we tested the newly released 2015 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino and it worked very well. A higher acid Barbera would also work as well as a Greco di Tufo or Vernaccia if you wanted to stick with white. The Castello Banfi will be reviewed next week!