It is not known whether the Italian ladies of the night (the puttane) who gave their name to this racy pasta sauce did so because they were short of time cash or both. In any case, puttanesca is quick and cheap and we hope it offends no one's memory to say so.I am curious how Italians feel while ordering it. Could you imagine going into a restaurant and saying, "oh, I am not sure what I want... I guess I will have the pasta of whores - that sounds good." Maybe that is just my prudish side showing through.
(Silver Palate Cookbook, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins with Michael McLaughlin)
As to the dish itself, it is relatively simple - though it requires removing all of the juice from the canned plum tomatoes which is a little time consuming. My first thought was to skip that step entirely, but I am glad I didn't. Once you see how the pasta cooks it becomes obvious that one of the reasons it is such a fast dish is that there is no need for a long simmering process to thicken the sauce because there is so little juice in it. The depth of the flavor is delivered from the canned anchovies, while the complexity is born of the combination of garlic, capers, and olives. It is a great combination.
I multiplied the quantity of red pepper flakes by a factor of 8 - Neen wasn't in town so I figured I was allowed to go hog wild with my red pepper flakes - but the factor of 8 was a little too much. Probably a factor of 4-6 would have been better. It wasn't too spicy, it is just that the flavor of the red pepper flakes was much stronger than the flavor of olive, which was an unfortunate loss. Thankfully, this corrected itself over time - the second day the pepper flakes were back to a nice balance with the rest of the dish.
Overall, I think this is a pasta dish that deserves more attention in my collection. It is very fast, with a lot of potent flavors. It might be complicated to serve at a dinner party simply because of how strong the flavors are, and if someone doesn't like the flavor of anchovies - well, there isn't much you can do. When Neen gets back into to town, I will try the dish out on her and see if she likes it as well. If she does, I think we will have ourselves a real winner for fast pasta.
Recipe from Silver Palate:
1 lb spaghetti
2 lb 3 oz peeled and canned Italian plum tomatoes
1/4 cup best quality olive-oil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (pr0bably better with ~1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 cup tiny black Nicoise olives
1/4 cup drained capers
4 cloves garlic (why stop there - I would up this to between 4-8 cloves depending on size)
8 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
2 teaspoon salt (I added only a sprinkle and it was already salty enough for me)
1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add salt and stir in spaghetti. Cook until tender but still firm. Drain immediately when done.
2. While spaghetti is cooking, drain the tomatoes, cut them crosswise into halves and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
3. Combine tomatoes and olive oil in a skillet and bring to a boil. Keep the sauce at a full boil and add the remaining ingredients (except pasta) one at a time, stirring frequently.
4. Reduce heat slightly and continue to cook for a few minutes or until sauce has thickened to your liking. Serve immediately over hot pasta and garnish with additional chopped parsley.