Pasta Puttanesca

September 13, 2007 at 11:05 pm (B plus, Derek's faves, Italian, Jack Bishop, My brain, Pasta, Quick weeknight recipe, Starches)

Pasta puttanesca makes a great pantry-only dinner, when you have nothing fresh in the fridge, but want a delicious homemade dinner. Derek claims that the tastiness to work ratio is unusually high. Below I’ve included our current version of this recipe, which is based on a recipe from Jack Bishop’s The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook.


  • 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil (original recipe called for 3 Tbs.)
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced (original recipe called for 3 cloves)
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 normal-sized (i.e., 14-ounce) cans of whole tomatoes (original recipe called for one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped)
  • 20 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped (original recipe called for 15 large black and/or green olives, pitted and chopped, about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 Tbs. drained capers, rinsed (original recipe called for 1 Tbs.)
  • 12 ounces whole wheat linguine (original recipe called for 1 pound of spaghetti)


  1. Move anything on or close to the stove further away. (The sauce splatters everything nearby.)
  2. Heat the oil in a large 12-inch stainless steel skillet. Add the garlic and hot red pepper flakes and saute over medium heat until the garlic is golden, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes with their juice. Use a metal spatula to break up the tomatoes into small pieces. Add the olives and capers. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes soften and the sauce thickens, about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how high you have the heat.
  4. While the sauce is simmering, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta. When the water comes to a boil, add salt to taste and the pasta. Cook the pasta until just before al dente and then drain.
  5. Toss the pasta with the tomato sauce and mix well. Divide among individual bowls and serve immediately.

My notes:

This recipe makes 4 large dinner servings or 6 medium dinner servings.

This sauce doesn’t need any added salt since the tomatoes, olives, capers, and added pasta are all salted. Bishop says this dish has an “improvised spirit” so he rarely serves with anything else, except maybe a leafy green salad. Personally, I like to serve it with a dark green salad with chickpeas and fresh fruit.

Notes from first attempt: I made the original recipe except I used 2 Tbs. olive oil, 8 ounces whole wheat linguine, and one large can of whole tomatoes, but I forgot to drain them. The sauce was perhaps a bit soupy but not too bad. There was a bit too much sauce for the amount of pasta. The sauce wasn’t quite briny enough for my taste, but was still good. I prepared the sauce while the water was coming to a boil, then while the sauce and pasta cooked I prepared a simple coleslaw and cleaned up a bit. In 30 minutes everything was on the table, then there was another 5-10 minutes of cleanup (but also two days worth of lunches).

Rating: B+

Although I usually make this recipe when I have nothing fresh around, today I made it with fresh tomatoes. I bought some heirloom tomatoes at the market, and a few of them got squished on the way home (one of the risks of buying heirlooms since they’re much softer than hybrids). I didn’t notice til this evening, and they had just a whiff of that rotten tomato smell, but I couldn’t stand throwing them out since they were so expensive. So I decided to try using them to make a simple whore’s pasta.

I filled a 3 quart saucepan with water, covered, and turned the heat to maximum. I cut off the softest bruised parts of the tomatoes (three large), sliced them in half, and seeded them (by sticking my fingers in all the crevices and pulling out the seeds). I cored the tomatoes and diced them up (but didn’t peel them). In a skillet (not a saucepan, a wide skillet), I warmed some olive oil. When it was warm I added a lot of garlic, maybe 5 very large cloves?, and a good sprinkle of red pepper flakes. When the garlic began to turn golden I added the tomato and turned the heat to maximum. When the water was hot I added salt and about 2 servings of orecchiette pasta. I boiled the tomatoes to reduce the liquid, until the pasta was ready. I also threw in about a half Tablespoon of rinsed capers towards the end. I drained the pasta (not too well), and added it to the pan with the now reduced pasta sauce. I then grated in a good helping of parmigianno-reggiano. It made two dinner sized servings, and was delicious.


1 Comment

  1. Derek Dreyer said,

    Note to self: Next time, try 12oz pasta, 2 Tbs oil, 3 small cans tomatoes, 20 olives, 2 Tbs capers, and 4 large cloves garlic. That will make 4 dinner-size servings.

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