Say hello to your new favorite pasta dinner! This recipe for Pasta Puttanesca is insanely flavorful, yet comes together in under 30 minutes using pantry staples. It is the perfect recipe for busy weeknights, yet flavorful enough to entertain with!
What is Pasta Puttanesca?
Pasta Puttanesca, or Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca, is a tomato-based sauce flavored with garlic, anchovies, olives, and capers, tossed with cooked spaghetti.
You will love this classic Italian pasta recipe. It is bold. It is briny. It is rich. It is just so amazingly delicious. It is perfect for busy weeknights, yet flavorful enough to entertain with.
Notes on Ingredients
- Canned Tomatoes: For puttanesca sauce, you want to use canned whole tomatoes. And if you can find them and afford them, always select San Marzano tomatoes–they really do have the best flavor and are less acidic than other varieties of tomatoes.
- Olive Oil: Be sure to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil, as the flavor will be apparent in the sauce.
- Garlic: This recipe uses a lot of garlic, for a lot of flavor. For best results, use crushed fresh garlic cloves, not jarred minced garlic.
- Olives: Kalamative olives are best in terms of flavor for this recipe. However, you can opt to swap them out for black olives if that is what you have on hand.
- Red pepper flakes: Crushed red pepper flakes add a subtle kick of spice to really wake up all the flavors in the sauce. You can omit, or reduce the amount if you are sensitive to spice, but it does really add dimension to the sauce.
- Capers: Capers may be small, but they pack insane flavor. They add a tart, floral, briny punch of flavor to this sauce and to recipes like Chicken Piccata.
- Fresh Parsley: I recommend finishing the dish with fresh parsley if you have it on hand. The beauty of pasta puttanesca is that the sauce is made with ingredients stored in the pantry, so if you find yourself without fresh parsley, simply skip it! Your sauce will still be delicious.
- Noodles: Spaghetti noodles are the classic choice for this dish. After all, it is known as Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca, which means Spaghetti with Puttanesca sauce.
How to Make Puttanesca Sauce with Pasta
Puttanesca Sauce comes together quickly so in order to have your pasta cooked and ready to add to your sauce, be sure to start this recipe by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. While the water is heating, move on to preparing the sauce so that everything comes together at the same time.
Step One: Infuse the Oil
The best way to impart a lot of flavor to this simple dish is to infuse the olive oil with garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes. This will give the sauce rich undertones and make it taste like it has simmered for hours when the reality is the sauce comes together in under 30 minutes.
- To a large stainless steel skillet, add the olive oil, minced garlic, minced anchovies, and crushed red pepper flakes. This is one time I find it is best to use a garlic press, rather than mince the garlic yourself. That will ensure the garlic is in small enough pieces it will melt into the oil and really infuse the sauce.
- Turn the heat to the lowest setting and allow the olive oil begins to slowly sizzle. This slow heat will bring out the flavors of the anchovies and garlic, allowing them to fully flavor the olive oil.
- Give the mixture a stir every 30 seconds or so, and heat until your nose begins to smell the aroma of the garlic and olive oil. You want to be careful to not burn the garlic, instead heat it until just fragrant, anywhere from 4-5 minutes on the lowest heat setting.
Step Two: Prepare Sauce
Once the olive oil is infused, you are ready to add the tomatoes to form the rich sauce. While you can chop the tomatoes or crush them using your hands before adding them to the oil, I don't find that to be necessary. They will break down as the puttanesca sauce simmers.
- Add the tomatoes, along with a pinch of salt, to the infused oil and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat.
- Simmer the tomatoes, stirring often to break up the tomatoes as they cook, for 10-12 minutes, Season with a small pinch of salt and bring the tomatoes to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often. Then simmer for 12-13 minutes over low heat, until the tomatoes begin to break down, and the sauce thickens.
- At this point your water has likely begun to come to boil, so now is the time to salt the boiling water and cook your pasta 1-2 minutes less than the package directions state. We will finish cooking the pasta in the sauce, so you want to cook the spaghetti until it is not quite al dente. Typically this will be about 5-6 minutes but always refer to your package directions to ensure the correct cooking time.
- When the tomatoes have cooked down, add the capers and olives and continue to simmer until the pasta is cooked, so that the flavors meld into the sauce.
Step Three: Add Pasta
It is always a good idea to finish cooking your noodles in your sauce. This allows the noodles to absorb the flavor of the sauce, the sauce to thicken from the starch on the noodles, and ultimately, the dish to be more flavorful.
- Drain the noodles, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid. That starchy cooking liquid will add a ton of flavor to your puttanesca sauce.
- Add the noodles to the sauce, along with ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. Toss the noodles with the sauce to coat.
- Continue to simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the noodles are perfectly al dente. You can add in the remaining ¼ cup of pasta cooking liquid as needed to thin the sauce.
Step Four: Serve
At this point, your pasta puttanesca is ready to serve.
- Give the sauce a quick taste to adjust seasonings.
- Serve the pasta with fresh parsley, and if not dairy-free, freshly grated parmesan cheese is always a delicious addition as well.
What to Serve with Pasta Puttanesca
Pasta Puttanesca is a meal in and of itself, however, I love to pair it with homemade garlic toast and a homemade Caesar salad for an Italian feast, that is easy to prepare yet delivers impressive flavors.
More Italian Pasta Recipes
- Pasta Bolognese
- Pasta Primavera
- Shrimp Scampi with Pasta
- Instant Pot Fettuccine Alfredo
- Tuscan White Bean Pasta
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If you tried this recipe for Puttanesca Sauce with Pasta, I would love for you to leave a comment and review below.
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 cloves garlic finely minced or pressed
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 anchovy fillets finely chopped
- 28 ounces canned whole tomatoes drained (San Marzano is best)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt plus 2 tablespoons for cooking pasta
- 3 tablespoons capers drained
- ½ cup Kalamative olives pitted and sliced
- 12 ounces spaghetti noodles
- Pepper for taste
- ¼ cup chopped parsley optional
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan optional for serving
- Before beginning the puttanesca sauce, place a large pot of water over high heat to allow it to come to a rapid boil while the sauce is being prepared.
- In a large stainless steel saute pan, add the olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovy fillets. Heatover low heat, stirring every 30 seconcs or so, until the oil just begins to lightly sizzle and you can smell the olive oil. This will take 4-5 minutes.
- Once the oil is warm and infused, add the drained whole tomatoes and a ½ teaspoon of kosher salt to the pan. Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring often, for 12-13 minutes.
- At this point, your water for the pasta should be boiling. Season the water with 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and drop the pasta into the boiling water. Set the cooking time for 2 minutes less than the package directions states.
- Once you drop the pasta into the water, add the capers and olives to the tomato sauce, and continue to simmer the sauce over medium-low while the pasta cooks, about 5-6 minutes.
- Drain the cooked pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water.
- Add the drained noodles, along with ¼ cup of the cooking liquid to the puttanesca sauce and toss to coat. Continue to simmer the sauce, adding additional cooking liquid as needed, until the noodles are cooked and the sauce clings to the pasta.
- Turn off the heat, taste and add pepper to taste and additional salt if needed. Fold in the fresh parsley and serve with parmesan cheese if desired.