Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca, sort of

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.

{Lots of garlic to ensure a tasty pasta dish!}

{Remember to reserve the spaghetti cooking liquid to add into the pasta sauce.}

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

Olive oil

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.


Meat Recipes, Seafood. permalink.

10 thoughts on “Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca, sort of

  1. Well, we absolutely love capers in our house and we have a constant supply of oregano, meaning we should be able to give this dish a try. It looks gorgeous. Love anchovies too, so it should be the perfect pasta dish for us. Why have I never had it before?!

  2. I know what I’m making for dinner tonight. Looks great. I love capers and can always justify having them around. The dehydrated anchovies sound like a good snack too 😉 I like that you used a generous portion of garlic too!

  3. Considering that the name in Italian means “Prostitute’s pasta,” maybe it would have been better to stick with the English name after all! Or… maybe not.

    There are a lot of explanations as to why it’s named for hookers, including that the ingredients are the kind of thing you can have around and not have to go out to the store for, and also my favourite explanation: “Because your mom makes it!”

    • Hi Camille,

      Thanks for the info. I was intrigued by the name of dish and will check out the story behind this pasta dish… 🙂 It’s always nice to know the origin of a dish.

  4. The authentic version has freshly chopped parsley and oregano is optional. Anyway, it’s a sacrilege to mix fish and parmesan in an Italian dish. Instead, why don’t you try to use unsalted butter and olive oil to saute the garlic? It’s a trick that makes the sauce more creamy and it doesn’t add salt, as opposed to what frozen parmesan does. I am glad that the pictures don’t show how badly overcooked those spaghetti are. Why don’t you boil the pasta after you are done preparing the sauce?

    • Hi Alessandro,

      Thanks for the tips and enlightening me about mixing fish & parmesan in an Italian dish. Although making pasta sauce first followed by boiling the pasta is the usual way of doing things, I find it easier for me to boil the pasta first, drained and set aside in a bowl and using the same pot to start preparing the sauce.
      Also FYI, the spaghetti was not overcooked.

      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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