La Puttanesca

 Spaghetti alla Puttanesca or Whores’ spaghetti

When I was very new to Italy I was in a Neapolitan restaurant when I overheard two elderly priests discussing the pros and cons of Spaghetti alla Puttanesca – Whore’s spaghetti. I was mesmerized until I realized they were talking about the menu.  Made from ingredients found in most Italian larders, this is also known as `Spaghetti alla Buona Donna – or Good Womans spaghetti – which can be misleading if one is not familiar with the ironic insult ` figlio d’una buona donna’ – son of a good woman.

To understand how this sauce came to get its name we have to look back to the 1950’s when brothels in Italy were state-owned. They were known as case chiuse or `closed houses’ because the shutters had to be kept permanently closed to avoid offending the sensibilities of neighbours or innocent passers-by. In those days conscientious Italian housewives shopped at the local market every day to buy really fresh food, but the `civil servants’ were only allowed one day per week for shopping, and their time was valuable. Their speciality became a sauce made quickly from odds and ends in the larder and now invaluable to all of us, whatever degree of virtue, when time and ingredients are in short supply.

Over the weekend I came back from London on a late flight, and the fridge was almost empty. This quick pasta sauce  kept me very happy.

500 g dry pasta

400g tin Italian plum tomatoes

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

120 g black olives, pitted and chopped

4 T capers, chopped

3 anchovy fillets, chopped

20 ml extra virgin olive oil

1 T chopped parsley


Heat the oil and cook the garlic and anchovy, pressing with the back of the wooden spoon until the anchovy almost melts into the oil. Now stir in the chopped tomatoes with their juice, the olives and capers. Cook for about 15 minutes. Cook the pasta, drain then stir in the sauce, sprinkle with parsley and serve.



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