Happy together

Olive oil, garlic, peperoncino, anchovies, tomatoes, capers, black olives, parsley and spaghetti.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca.

There are several stories and myths as to the origins of this happy combination of ingredients commonly known as spaghetti alla puttanesca which literally translated means ‘Whore’s spaghetti.’ Are you sitting uncomfortably?

One story, probably the one I have been told most often, suggests that the dish was invented at the beginning of the 20th century by the proprietor – lets call him Ciro and imagine he is very rotund and of kind and exuberant nature – of a brothel in the Spanish Quarter of Naples who would make this simple and tasty dish for his clients and his working girls between appointments. A smart flourish to the story is the suggestion that the colours of the sauce, the red of the tomatoes, the vibrant green of the parsley, the grey-green of the capers, the deep violet of the olives and the burgundy of the peperoncino mirrored the vibrant eye-catching colours of the clothes and undergarments of the girls working at the brothel…..

Some say a prostitute called Yvette la Francese originally from Provence created the sauce to ease her homesickness and longing for the Provencal flavours of her home…….olives, capers, anchovies, tomatoes. With a delicious swipe of irony she named it after the oldest profession in the world

Others say the sauce was created just after the second world war on the Island of Ishia – which lies about 50km from the coast of Napoli – by an eccentric and notoriously hospitable painter called Eduardo Colucci. The story suggests that during one of his summer retreats to a tiny and simple cabin that nestled amongst the olive groves at Punta Molino he made an improvised supper for his various and very eclectic group of friends who lounged on the terrace. It was based on his speciality the classic marinara sauce but as it evolved he renamed it puttesesca…… the exact reason is not clear.

But who wants clear, this kind of story is much more interesting with a little ambiguity.

Another story is that the dish was invented in the 1950s by a certain Sandro Petti, co-owner of the famous restaurant and nightspot Rancio Fellone and proud owner of the best brill creamed quiff* on the island of Ishcia . One evening just as the restaurant was about to close Petti found a group of hungry friends sitting at one of his tables. He shrugged his shoulders, it was late, he was low on ingredients and he didn’t have enough to make them a meal. But they raised their hands in despair and cried “mamma mia abbiamo fame* facci una puttanata qualsiasi” or “ mamma mia we are hungry make us any kind of garbage.” Used like this puttanata is a noun meaning garbage or something worthless, even though it derives from the Italian word for whore, puttana. Petti, the story continues, had nothing more than four tomatoes, two olives and some capers; the basic ingredients for the sugo so he used them to make the sauce for the spaghetti.  From that day forth Petti included this dish on his menu as spaghetti alla puttanesca…..

It seems the last story is probably the most likely but I prefer the first one…..Or maybe the third one, Colucci and his eclectic friends.

I am undecided.

Anyway whatever the origins, it is a most delicious and happy combination of flavours.

We often have this for lunch; because it’s so delicious, because we always have the ingredients in the cupboard and because the sauce, the puttanesca, takes about the same amount of time to make as it takes to bring the pasta water to a fast boil and then to cook the pasta.

It’s like this.

While you bring a large pan of well salted water to the boil for the pasta you put the olive oil, minced garlic and peperoncino into a frying pan over a very gentle flame so the oil warms slowly and the garlic softens (but doesn’t brown) for about 5 – 10 minutes. Then add the anchovies to the pan and keeping the flame really low gently prod and stir them until they dissolve and ‘melt’ into the oil. Now you add the tomatoes to the pan and raise the heat a little so everything reaches a bubbling simmer. Then you add the capers, tomato puree, olives and stir.

By now the pasta water should have reached a fast boil so begin cooking the spaghetti.

Allow the sauce to bubble away and reduce a little and then add the parsley. Once the spaghetti is al dente – this will depend on your spaghetti, we use Garofalo and this takes about 8 minutes – drain it and then tip both the sauce and spaghetti into a warm serving bowl mix gently but firmly and the divide between warm bowls.

This was our lunch, we also had a salad of fennel and orange and some rather nice grapes, musky and sweet.

I know that this kind of pasta with such strong and particular flavours needs to be a very personal thing, the recipe is a loose guide and not a set of rules….you can experiment….if you like anchovies you might like to add more, if you find capers overwhelming, add less or leave them out, how salty are your olives ? how hot is your chilli?…you know better than me.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca

Adapted from Le Ricette Regionale Italiane

Serves 4

  • 6 tbsp of good olive oil
  • 1 plump clove of garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1 small fresh or dried peperoncino/ red chilli deseeded and chopped finely
  • 8 anchovy fillets (ideally preserved under salt but in oil are fine)
  • 350g red, ripe tomatoes. Skinned, deseeded and roughly chopped or 350g of tinned peeled plum tomatoes without the juice.
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 100g pitted black olives
  • 1 large tbsp capers (ideally preserved under salt but in brine are fine)
  • 2 tbsp of roughly chopped parsley
  • 400g best quality spaghetti

Bring a large pan of well salted water to the boil for the pasta

If you are using capers preserved under salt soak them in warm water for 2 minutes and then rinse them very carefully. If you are using anchovies preserved under salt soak them in water for 15 minutes and then remove the backbone and rinse them very carefully

Put the olive oil, minced garlic and peperoncino into a frying pan over a very gentle flame and let the garlic soften (but not brown) and the flavours release into the oil – this should take about 10 minutes if the flame is gentle enough.

Peel, deseed and roughly chop the tomatoes.

Add the anchovies to the pan and keeping the flame really low gently prod and stir them until they dissolve into the oil. Now add the tomatoes to the pan and raise the heat a little so the pan reaches a bubbling simmer. Add the capers, tomato puree and the olives and stir.

By now the pasta water should have reached a fast boil so begin cooking the spaghetti.

Allow the sauce to bubble away and reduce a little and then add the parsley, stir.

Once the spaghetti is al dente – this will depend on your spaghetti, we use Garofalo and this takes about 8 minutes – drain it and then tip both the sauce and spaghetti into a warm serving bowl.

Mix gently but firmly and then divide between warm bowls.

* I made this up.

14 Comments

Filed under food, pasta and rice, rachel eats Italy, Rachel's Diary, recipes

14 responses to “Happy together

  1. I prefer the first story too. Either way, this recipe includes about 6 of my 10 favourite flavours, so this has to happen soon.

  2. this is the BEST way to see if your “readers” actually read your post. I guess that only about 2-4 of the people who comment on our posts actually read them (which actually quite depresses jonny and i but whatever…). i want some creamed quiff (sounds nasty – almost like you’re talking about queefs- google it if you don’t know what that is cause you may change the creamed quiff).

    anyways, i never heard of story number 2, but growing up i heard the story of the whores over and over and over again. it’s like my family just loved that story! I’m going to pretend it’s still the truth.

    • rachel

      Amy. yep need to change that – umm you learn something new everyday.
      Actually there are 2 more stories now I seemed to publish the wrong text last night.
      About the reading, put it this way, you know when people do !
      Come to Italy kids xx

  3. carrieitly

    I’ve never heard the second theory… and I prefer the first, even if it’s folklorish. The second one just sounds too close to the story on the invention of the Caesar salad.

  4. Rachel…I lean towards the working-girl story… I also find it funny that Vincenzo is almost half finished his bowl and you are still taking pictures.

  5. oh, without question, your last story is best, brill-creamed-quiff and all.

  6. Okay, I had to laugh at your end note. How naughty of you!

    My favorite pasta dish by far…but then again, I love the salt and the spice.

  7. theordinarycook

    Yum, I love puttanesca and your version looks very delicious and Tracy’s comment makes me laugh as ever since I started my blog I have been driving my family mad by photographing everything when all they want to do is eat.

    • rachel

      Vincenzo now refuses to wait for photos and has requested that photos are very speedy. I fell off the chair a week or so ago and he found it rather too amusing.

  8. How did I miss your puttanesca? Gosh, it really is one of my all-time favorite dishes. Love that you used fresh tomatoes – so much better that way, though until next season I’ll probably use the ones I canned during the summer.

  9. Pingback: Just call me anchovy. « rachel eats

  10. Robert Bilenchi

    Rachel,
    Of all the info and food websites that proport stories of the origin of Puttanesca sauce your has the most variety of stories all of which seem plausible. The ’50s story is the one most sited and I know that it is wrong. My 93 year old mother (still living and alert) remembers the dish when she was growing up in Naples Italy. So the recipe has to predate the ’50s. Old people do not use the internet so old Italians are not available to refute the ’50s story online. Perhaps Vincenzo has some older relatives or friends who remember the dish pre ’50s. I am researching this anywhere I can. Please speak to Vincenzo to see if you can shed some light on this subject.
    Thanks,
    Bob

  11. Pingback: Whore’s Spaghetti | ovenlesskitchen

  12. Pingback: How To Cook The World Is Best Spaghetti, Alla Puttanesca

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s