Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Another recipe from the Essential Mediterranean Cookbook (newest edition here).  The name “puttanesca” is a derivation of the word puttana which means “whore” in Italian — so this dish is literally called the “whore’s spaghetti.”  This is a spicy and salty Southern Italian dish invented in the mid-20th century.  There are many accounts surrounding the origins of this dish, but a common explanation for the name relates to the fact that the sauce’s intense flavors were like a siren call to the men who visited such “ladies of pleasure.”  Another theory centers on brothel prostitutes who were forbidden from grocery shopping during regular hours like the gentile ladies and were left to rely on the pantry staples such as olives, capers, and anchovies.

No matter the true origins, I quite enjoyed the unique and tangy flavors of this dish!  The sauce is light but has a spicy kick to it — plus it’s super quick to make and that’s always a positive in my book.  Plus, I like the name of the dish.  Yes, I won’t let go of immaturity.

FYI as a reader caught on, I did overcook the spaghetti oops wasn’t watching the pot very carefully.  So if using the photos as a guide, errr make sure the pasta doesn’t look quite like that haha my bad!

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Yields: 6 servings


  • 1/3 C olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 6 large ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 4 T capers, rinsed
  • 8 anchovies in oil, drained, chopped
  • 150 g (5 oz) Kalamata olives
  • 3 T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 375 g (12 oz) spaghetti


Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and chili flakes to the saucepan and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the tomato, capers and anchovies.  Simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and pulpy.  Stir the olives and parsley through the sauce.

While the sauce is cooking, cook the spaghetti in a large saucepan of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and return to the pan.

Add the sauce to the pasta and stir it through.  Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste, and serve immediately.

6 Responses to “Spaghetti alla Puttanesca”
  1. whatsaysyou says:

    As a pasta lover, I like what I read on your blog and would love to give it a go in the kitchen myself.

  2. Mauro says:

    Hi from Italy. The real name is “Spaghetti alla puttanesca” (not “Spaghetti puttanesca”). Here in Campania we make “Pizza alla puttanesca” too (ie. restaurant “La Zimbarella”, Trecase, Naples).

    Your photo looks quite good but it seems you cooked pasta a little bit more than required.

    • woo tang says:

      thanks for the correction! yeah i did overcook it / forgot it was boiling – was hoping no one would notice hahah u caught me

      • Mauro says:

        Don’t worry, only italian eyes can notice it. 😉

      • Mauro says:

        Ah, not sure I understood here:

        “cook the spaghetti in a large saucepan of rapidly boiling salted water until al dente”.

        You should wait for the water to boil, then put spaghetti (and drain them 30 seconds before the time given by the vendor upon the label). Sorry for my bad english too.

  3. Looks fantastic! Pasta is the best

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