Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pasta For "A Ladies' Night Out"

I will admit to being a little slow when it comes to foreign languages. My mother's extended family is all French, but my French is non-existent; I had a good friend in college who taught me some Italian - let me tell you, it's long gone. So I suppose it should come as no surprise that I did not immediately make the connection between "Pasta Puttanesca" and the French word "putain." For those not familiar with either French or Italian, the Silver Palate cook book - which I continue to recommend to those of you who do not yet own a copy - had the following description. (image taken from the Food Network)
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.
(Silver Palate Cookbook, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins with Michael McLaughlin)
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.

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.


Molly said...

Julee Rosso is one of my favorite cookbook authors ever. She's also from my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and now owns and operates a country inn in nearby Saugutuck, Michigan, possibly one of the greatest vacation destinations ever. The Silver Palate cookbook is one that I use probably at least weekly.

kittie said...

Ooooh, lovely! I have a tendency to go overboard on the chillies too ;)

I have only made this once... and it was ages ago!!! I used fresh tomatoes and chillies - I'll need to give a go your way - it makes it a true store-cupboard dish then :)

That Girl said...

I can't help it, everytime I see Pasta Puttanesca I instantly think of the first book in "A Series of Unfortunate Events" where the orphans are forced to make puttanesca for the evil theater troupe.

giz said...

The spicier the better I say...

Krysta said...

I like it fast and hot... my pasta that is...

katiez said...

Hmmm...with the red pepper mulitplied by a factor of 8 - it gives a whole new definition to Whore's Pasta....
So, are we going to see lots of lovely fish after the big move? (Being a midwesterner myself, I understand the lack of fishy background)

Ginny said...

hahaha! I did not think about the name...hehe!!! I learned that word when at a football game in Rome...learned a bunch of other colorful language too! Looks great!!!

Shaun said...

Do ~ So, did you end up making it again for Neen? I've actually never made this dish but have come across it a lot on food blogs. It seems like many a bloggers' pasta go-to. Good luck in Berkeley -Northern California is beautiful.