This classic Italian spaghetti is irresistible not only because of its robust flavors, but it has some alluring history too. They say that in the olden days in Italy, the ladies of the night would simmer this fragrant tomato sauce near an open window and the inviting aromas of garlic, tangy capers, savory olives, and fresh herbs would lure customers off the street. And since it is so easy to make, they could have a quick dinner in between appointments. Well, thanks to their ingenuity, we can all enjoy this seductive dish no matter what kind of work we do.
We made only a few changes to this recipe found in The Silver Palate Cookbook. We leave out the anchovies often found in pasta puttanesca, but when you simmer Italian plum tomatoes with Kalamata olives, garlic, and capers you create a sauce that is so enticing that no one will miss them.
This is a perfect dinner for when you have company because all the ingredients can be prepped and chopped in advance, and the total cooking time is under ten minutes. Plus, the name—which means “whore’s pasta” in Italian—is always a topic of conversation. While this dish is elegant enough to serve for guests, it is simple to make anytime you want a delicious meal, and because the fresh ingredients are so healthy, that can be as often as you like.
adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook
2 28-ounce (794 g) cans peeled Italian plum tomatoes
1 pound (454 g) dried spaghetti
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (82 g) kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup (24 g) flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped, plus more for garnish if desired
1/4 cup (45 g) capers, drained
4 large cloves garlic (20 g), chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
Open the cans of tomatoes, then remove the tomatoes one at a time, gently squeezing them with your hand to remove as much liquid as possible—this is best done over the sink, as it can be messy. Place the squeezed tomatoes in a bowl and set aside. The liquid in the cans can be discarded or saved for future use.
Fill a large pot with 4 to 5 quarts of water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt for every quart of water, and stir to dissolve. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente, usually about 9 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, place the squeezed tomatoes and olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Set the skillet over medium heat, and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once simmering, add the remaining ingredients one at a time, and continue stirring occasionally.
Once the pasta is done, reserve some of the cooking water, then drain. Transfer the pasta to the skillet of sauce, and toss to coat the noodles evenly (note: if your skillet is not large enough, you can return the spaghetti to the pot it cooked in, then add the sauce and toss to combine). If the pasta seems dry, add the reserved cooking water a few tablespoons at a time and toss until the desired texture is reached. Serve hot, garnished with parsley if desired, and enjoy!
— Updated January 2019: Added weight measurements and re-worded instructions.