Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes



Appears in

The Mediterranean Kitchen

By Joyce Goldstein

Published 1998

  • About

Everyone has probably heard different stories of the origin of this sauce’s name. Puttana is Italian slang for whore, and this sauce is reportedly as hot and spicy as a lady of the evening. It is quick to assemble and quick to eat, perhaps a dish prepared between appointments. While it is best known as the classic Neapolitan sauce for spaghetti, we have discovered it is a knockout on grilled or baked swordfish, tuna, sea bass, and cod as well. This recipe will sauce six servings of fish.


  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon anchovy puree
  • 2 teaspoons (or to taste) dried red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup basil chiffonade or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 cups Tomato Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 20 Gaeta or Kalamata olives, pitted and quartered or sliced
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 12 ounces spaghetti


Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over low heat. Add the garlic and anchovy and heat about 3 minutes. Add the pepper flakes and oregano if using and heat 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce and simmer about 5 minutes. Add half the basil and capers if using and all the olives. Simmer about 5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper; add more red pepper if you want the sauce hotter.

Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta and transfer to a pasta bowl. Add the sauce and quickly toss to combine. Serve hot. Usually no cheese is served with this pasta because of the anchovy.