This recipe for Pasta Puttanesca is insanely flavorful, yet comes together in under 30 minutes using pantry staples. It is the perfect pasta 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. Pasta Puttanesca is bold, briny, rich, and simply delicious. And even though this pasta recipe is flavorful enough to entertain with, it comes together with humble ingredients and is easy enough to whip up on a busy weeknight.
Notes on Ingredients
- Canned Tomatoes: For puttanesca sauce, you want to use canned whole tomatoes. If you can find and afford them, always select San Marzano tomatoes, as they 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.
- Anchovies: Anchovies are a classic addition to pasta puttanesca, and add an umami flavor to the sauce. You can opt to use anchovy paste in place of the anchovy fillet if desired. Or omit them altogether, if you are opposed to cooking with anchovies.
- 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 wake up all the flavors in the sauce. You can omit, or reduce the amount if you are sensitive to spice, but it does 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 the puttanesca sauce.
- 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
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.
Step Two: Simmer Puttanesca 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. Once 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: Toss Pasta with Puttanesca Sauce. It is always a good idea to finish cooking your noodles in your sauce, along with some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid, which will help to flavor the sauce and help the noodles and sauce adhere.
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-American Pasta Recipes
- Pasta Bolognese
- Pasta Primavera
- Shrimp Scampi with Pasta
- Instant Pot Fettuccine Alfredo
- Tuscan White Bean Pasta
If you tried this recipe for Pasta Puttanesca Sauce, 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.
- While the water is coming to a boil, add olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovy fillets to a large, deep stainless steel saute pan. Heat over low heat, stirring every 30 seconds 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.