Spotlight on Puttanesca

Spotlight on Puttanesca
This sauce is salty, briny, spicy, and vibrant—even with off-season supermarket tomatoes. (Lynda Balslev for Tastefood)

Pasta puttanesca is a southern Italian dish that hails from Naples in the Campania region. Puttanesca refers to the potent tomato sauce that brims with black olives, red chiles, capers, and anchovies. It's safe to say that this dish is no shrinking violet, as its name might suggest, and indeed this sauce is salty, briny, spicy, and vibrant.

There's no denying puttanesca sauce goes exceedingly well with pasta. It's also a wonderful condiment that is more than a fiery addition to spaghetti. Use it as a vibrant ragout, ladle it over fish such as swordfish or halibut, or use it as a bed for garlicky shrimp. Dollop it on grilled steak and chicken, or add a drizzle to eggs. Even a smear on crostini will stand in for an easy appetizer in a pinch.

You can count on this sauce as a year-round kitchen staple. While tomatoes at the peak of their season are always a desirable ingredient, there's no issue with using packaged grape or cherry tomatoes in the off-season. Just cook them down to a sludgy consistency and let the other ingredients deliver their wallop of flavors. This recipe does just that.

It takes inspiration from the traditional puttanesca sauce with a liberty or two—namely, an extra dash of sweetness to boost the flavor of supermarket tomatoes. A simple splash of balsamic vinegar and orange juice provides the extra kick. I encourage you to taste as you go and add these two ingredients in the end as needed.

Puttanesca Sauce

Active Time: 20 minutes Total Time: 20 minutes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup cured black olives, pitted, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 anchovies, mashed
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh orange juice (optional)
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and cook until they break down, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the olives, anchovies, capers, oregano, and black pepper and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Taste for seasoning—you may or may not need salt, due to the saltiness of the ingredients.

Stir in the balsamic vinegar and taste again. If too tart, add the orange juice. Remove from the heat and cool to allow the flavors to develop. Refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Lynda Balslev is a cookbook author, food and travel writer, and recipe developer based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her Danish husband, two children, a cat, and a dog. Balslev studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu Ecole de Cuisine in Paris and worked as a personal chef, culinary instructor, and food writer in Switzerland and Denmark. Copyright 2021 Lynda Balslev. Distributed by Andrews McMeel Syndication.
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