Intending to expand my Italian home-cooked meals territory, I have braved myself to attempt making spaghetti alla puttanesca. Despite the dish means whore’s spaghetti in English, I chose to stick to its Italian name than its literal name “spaghetti with anchovy and olives”. A little trick to make sure my husband was not reminded by the fact that there’s anchovy in the sauce.
Being born and raised in Malaysia, I’m no stranger to anchovies. In fact, my favourite snack was deep fried achovies (fyi: the dehydrated anchovies and not the ones you used in this recipe) coated with chilli paste and toasted peanuts. I know it may not sound delicious to some of you but believe me, it’s something you got to try for yourself in real life, and I bet you will grow to love it.
Although my first experience of the dish was not a pleasant one – way too much salt in the sauce (to the extent that seawater seems like plain drinking water), I was not scarred deeply enough to stay away from the dish for good.
Not to mislead you into thinking that’s how the real spaghetti alla puttanesca would look like, my sort-of version did not have capers and oregeno as opposite to the authentic version. Since I don’t use capers regularly, I couldn’t justify the purchase of a bottle capers just for this dish. As for oregano, I have unintentionally left it out while cooking in a rush this time.
My sort of spaghetti alla puttanesca
(A fuss free cooking recipe)
Serves generously to 2 people
About 350g spaghetti
6 anchovy fillets
1 tsp dried oregano (*unintentionally omitted while making it this time)
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
0.5 tbsp dried chilli flakes (feel free to adjust according to your chilli tolerance)
10 pitted kalamata olives, sliced
400g canned crushed tomato
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp grated parmesan
Salt, sugar & pepper
1. In a large pot, cook spaghetti as per packet instructions. Drained and set aside in a large bowl. Remember to reserve about 2 cups of the cooking water.
2. To prepare the sauce, add some olive oil in a pot and saute the garlic and chilli flakes over medium heat until aromatic. It’s important not to brown the garlic to avoid the bitterness in the sauce.
3. Turn the heat to minimum, add anchovy fillet and use the back of the spatula (or spoon) to mash the anchovy fillets as fine as possible.
4. Then add olives, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and a quarter cup of the spaghetti cooking liquid into the anchovy mixture. Let it simmer over low to medium heat for 10 minutes or more (ideally, until the oil begins to separate from the sauce). Add more of the spaghetti cooking liquid if the bottom begins to stick.
5. Add salt and sugar to taste. I would go easy on the salt as the parmesan cheese that will be added into the sauce in the next step will increase the salt content of the sauce.
6. Add parmesan cheese into the sauce. The is because I keep my unused cheese in the freezer. If you have fresh parmesan cheese, you can grate it over the spaghetti just before serving instead of adding into the sauce. However, by adding cheese into the sauce will result in creamier sauce that will “stick” to the spaghetti noodles better (= tastier spaghetti). If you don’t have parmesan at all, any cheese will do the trick i.e those “plastic” cheese you put in your sandwiches.
7. Toss spaghetti in the sauce and mix well. Serve immediately.