The sauce alone is called sugo alla puttanesca in Italian. Recipes may differ according to preferences; for instance the Neapolitan version is prepared without anchovies, unlike the version popular in Lazio, and chilli peppers are sometimes added. In most cases, however, the sugo is a little salty (from the capers, olives, and anchovies) and quite fragrant (from the garlic). Traditionally, the sauce is served with spaghetti, although it is also paired with penne, bucatini, linguine and vermicelli.
Chopped garlic and anchovies (omitted in the Neapolitan version) are sautéed in olive oil. Chopped chilli peppers, olives, capers, diced tomatoes and oregano are added along with salt and black pepper to taste. The cook then reduces this mixture by simmering and pours it over spaghetti cooked al dente. The final touch is a topping of parsley.
- 400 g spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 10 anchovy fillets in oil, drained, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons Italian (flat-leaf) parsley, chopped
- 600 g about 4 tomatoes, chopped, juice reserved
- ½ tsp chilli flakes (red pepper flakes)
- 50 g salted capers, rinsed, drained, and chopped
- 50 g pitted black olives, roughly chopped
- extra virgin olive oil and grated Parmesan, to serve
- Cook pasta in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving a few tablespoons cooking water.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until translucent.
- Add garlic, anchovy and parsley and cook for 1 minute, but don’t allow to brown.
- Add tomato and juice, chilli, capers and olives. Simmer for 4 minutes or until tomato has broken down, adding a little reserved cooking water, if necessary. Season with pepper, remove from heat and keep warm until pasta is cooked.
- Add pasta to sauce. Toss to combine, adding a little extra virgin olive oil to taste.
- Serve immediately with grated Parmesan and seasoned with black pepper.
Various accounts exist as to when and how the dish originated, but it likely dates to the mid-twentieth century. The earliest known mention of it is in Raffaele La Capria’s Ferito a Morte (Mortal Wound), a 1961 Italian novel which mentions “spaghetti alla puttanesca come li fanno a Siracusa (spaghetti alla puttanesca as they make it in Syracuse)”. The sauce became popular in the 1960s, according to the Professional Union of Italian Pasta Makers.
The 1971 edition of the Cucchiaio d’argento (The Silver Spoon), one of Italy’s most prominent cookbooks, has no recipe with this name, but two which are similar: The Neapolitan spaghetti alla partenopea, is made with anchovies and generous quantities of oregano; while spaghetti alla siciliana is distinguished by the addition of green peppers. Still again there is a Sicilian style popular around Palermo that includes olives, anchovies and raisins.
In a 2005 article from Il Golfo—a daily newspaper serving the Italian islands of Ischia and Procida—Annarita Cuomo asserted that sugo alla puttanesca was invented in the 1950s by Sandro Petti, co-owner of Rancio Fellone, a famous Ischian restaurant and nightspot. According to Cuomo, Petti’s moment of inspiration came when—near closing one evening—Petti found a group of customers sitting at one of his tables. He was low on ingredients and so told them he didn’t have enough to make them a meal. They complained that it was late and they were hungry. “Facci una puttanata qualsiasi,” or “Make any kind of garbage,” they insisted.a[›] Petti had nothing more than four tomatoes, two olives and some capers—the basic ingredients for the sugo, “So I used them to make the sauce for the spaghetti,” Petti told Cuomo. Later, Petti included this dish on his menu as spaghetti alla puttanesca.