Thursday, January 22, 2009

I made pasta puttanesca

This is my favorite kind of pasta sauce because it is loaded with things that I love, like kalamata olives and capers. I've always been baffled by the name, which is a derivative of puttana, the Italian word for whore. I did a little research and found various explanations for this, and most boil down to its alluring aroma. Some stories say that the puttanas would prepare this dish to lure men into their brothels.

All I know is, I could eat this sauce all the time. I like it with a flat pasta like fettucini or linguini. I've also had it on tilapia, which was delicious as well. I'd like to try making a pizza with it.

For a long time, making pasta sauce from scratch was intimidating to me. It always seemed like something that requires some sort of elusive magic touch brought on only by culture or experience. But puttanesca is actually very easy. Like most red sauces, the longer you cook it, the better.

This is the recipe I've always used, which I found just by searching online until I came across one that sounded just right. It's from Emeril Lagasse, whose show I've never watched, but this recipe has become part of my regular repertoire. I pretty much follow it exactly except that I let it cook as long as is convenient, add a handful of fresh parsley and a splash of red wine. Oh--and I use about twice the amount of olives and capers. Here it is with some comments, in bold:

Pasta Puttanesca

1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
6 cloves minced garlic
2 (28-ounce) cans Roma plum tomatoes, broken into pieces, with juice
1 cup tightly packed, pitted, and halved Kalamata olives (double those olives!)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons drained capers (toss in the whole jar!)
2 tablespoons minced anchovy fillets (about 8 fillets) (A lot of people think they don't like anchovies. You really don't notice them when you eat the sauce, but they are essential for flavor. They are also kind of gross to handle and chop. But you just gotta deal! They are crucial for this sauce.)
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed basil (and fresh parsley!)
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes (used a lot more than this)
1 pound penne pasta, cooked to al dente (fettucini!)
And a splash of red wine!

In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and lightly caramelized, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the remaining ingredients and simmer until the sauce is thickened and slightly reduced, about 40 minutes (This time I let it cook for an hour and a half). Adjust seasoning, to taste, cover and set aside. Add penne pasta (FETTUCINI!!) to the pan and toss for 1 minute. Serve with fresh grated parmesan or pecorino romano.