Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sunday Recipe: Pasta Puttanesa

I know that pasta puttanesca means's whore's spaghetti, but I think it's just the kind of thing anybody can whip together without making a massive schlepp to the supermarket. It's basically spaghetti sauce made with stuff you'd just find in a typical southern Italian kitchen on any given day.

Growing up surrounded by crazy cooking Italians (tm), everybody just cooked. My mother, grandparents, great aunts and uncles, great-grandmother and various and sundry cousins were all cooks. They didn't use any fancy terms for dishes or techniques, they never talked about de-glazing or layering flavors or anything like that. They just did it. And the food was good.

To this day, there are staples I always have on hand in my house (garlic, canned diced tomatoes -- hey, tomatoes are only in season for a few months -- crushed red peppers, spaghetti, a tube of triple strength tomato paste, and some pecorino romano cheese) because you never know when you might need to eat an emergency bowl of pasta. If I'm lucky, I have a few other things hanging around to add to the sauce. It took me a long time to realize that I was making a bastardized version of Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, which is more accurately, pasta of the tired or broke, rather than pasta of the whore. This recipe is for my friend Hildy Johnson, who asked me to post a recipe with less chopping and prepping. Also, it's delicious.

You will need:
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 shallots, finely diced
2 teaspoon anchovy paste
healthy pinch crushed red pepper
25 (approx) kalamta olives, pitted and sliced in half [more on the olives below]
1 large can crushed tomatoes (San Marzano, if possible)
1 small can of good tomato paste
1 cup red wine
handful of dried basil (I'm posting this in the winter and my herb pots are long gone ... so dried basil will do)
1/4 cup (a couple of handfuls) flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 pound spaghetti

I know that traditionally, capers are one of the ingredients of puttanesca, but I don't think they add much and I'm not generally a fan of these little unripened buds, but if you like them, add 2 tablespoons of capers to this recipe.

The prep:
Heat your saucepan and add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss in the garlic and shallots and sautee until soft and just turning brown. Add the small can of paste and cook the paste until it sticking to the bottom of the pan (about 5 or 10 minutes.) Add the wine and deglaze the pan. Reduce the wine by about half, then add the tomatoes, the anchovy paste, olives, basil and parsley. As to the olives, I like kalamata or Greek olives for this. Some chefs call for black olives, cured in olive oil, so you can substitute those if you prefer. Reduce to a low simmer for about 30 minutes, partially covered.

I like the traditional thin spaghetti with puttanesca sauce, but just about anything works, linguini, penne, troffie, anything you have on hand. Serve with grated pecorino romano. If you have any good, crusty bread around, it's great for dipping the sauce.

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