Ever not know what to cook? It happens all the time and so often a meal starts by opening the refrigerator then taking a peak as to what’s available. It’s such a popular way to decide what you are going to cook that the Food Network’s hit CHOPPED is loosely based on that premise. You are presented with a random group of ingredients and that will spark an idea. This was what I found one evening after work in the fridge: Gaeta Olives (an Oil Cured Black Italian Olive), flat leaf Italian Parsley, Sicilian Anchovies, Salt Cured Capers…to that I added some standard pantry items like Dried Sicilian Oregano, Peperoncino, Garlic, San Marzano Tomaotes. PUTTANESCA went off in my brain. I had no plan of making that but it was right there in front of me..CHE FORTUNATO!!! What’s a puttanesca? It’s a dish with legendary and questionable origins with many stories swirling around as to why, who, and what caused this dish to be created. The ingredients are basic to the cuisine of the area in and around the city of Naples, BELLA NAPOLI! My own heritage is based in Naples as that’s the city my maternal grandmother lived in from the time she was 10 until she immigrated to Staten Island, NYC at the age of 20. These ingredients along with dried pasta are always in my fridge and pantry. So, this so called “Whore’s Pasta”, (Puttanesca translates to made by Prostitutes) was most likely born of the same circumstances as my dinner was, using the ingredients on hand to create something delicious. Not so sure that the local street walkers concocted it to feed themselves and their Pimps inbetween “jobs”…ok..we can say that’s what happened because stories are always better when they are scandalous. Naples is a crowded ancient city which spawned most of what America considers is the food of Italy. It sits the shadow of Mt.Vesuviusand has given my kitchen table so much inspiration. Puttanesca Sauce is one of those favorites I love to cook. As with most Italian Sauces and pasta preparations it’s relatively quick. Yes, Yes, I know, your Nonna cooked her sauce for 100 hours on a Sunday so don’t even start with me..that’s only one type of Italian sauce. There aren’t enough days in the year to discuss each region’s pasta dishes. Have no fear of the time factor! A pasta dish during the week is not a long and laborious process! Let’s pass through the gates of the Port of Naples now and enter the #AFOKitchen, my #AFoodObsession playground, ie: my home’s kitchen and start to cook SPAGHETTI ALLA PUTTANESCA.
This recipe will feed 4 people and will take approximately 30 minutes or so. (by the way don’t panic if you are falling behind on the time..that is just a guide..if you are still cooking it after an hour i suggest you order out…lol)
1 lb. good Italian Imported Spaghetti (cheap pasta is just that, it’s cheap, filling, but lacks the toothsome qualities the better pasta gives you. DeCecco, Barilla, Delverde, a few of the good choices, although Barilla is now made in the U.S.)
2 tbs. salt cured capers, ran under water and drained
1 cup pitted and coarsely chopped CURED Italian Olives, such as the Gaeta variety (canned black olives lose any flavor when cooked, the oil cured are amazing and stay flavorful throughout the cooking process.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 large cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 can crushed San Marzano Tomatoes
Anchovies..here’s where I am going to veer away from possibly what many prefer, i used about 4 filets in this dish, others prefer up to 12…you be the judge. Anchovies are a concentrated powerhouse of salt and Mediterranean fish love. chop them.
1 tsp. peperoncino (red pepper flakes)
Salt to taste (sea salt best for this)
1/8 cup chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
In a wide pan heat 2 tbs of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil..add the olives, the oregano that you rub between your hands first then let it fall into the pan, add 1/2 the peperoncino, then the garlic and anchovies. Add 1/2 the parsley. Your nose is your best cooking tool, after your hands and once you can smell that garlic you are now ready to add the tomatoes. and the capers. Bring this to a boil THEN down to a simmer and let this cook for 15-20 minutes. Stir frequently, and why? Tomatoes are loaded with natural sugar (they are a fruit!!)and they will burn and scorch. Number one pet peeve with having tomato sauced foods out…scorched sauce. You don’t need to cook it that long!!! Sorry, I digress, back to the pan of sauce before I burn it!! While this is happening in your pan cook the spaghetti just until AL DENTE according to the package directions. Drain and then add directly into the pan and toss well for no more than 3-4 minutes. Then serve. Simple. Here’s an important note…add salt to taste only if you need it..the capers and anchovies and the cured olives have plenty of salt in them. However some like more punch than others so don’t add it until everything has been added and cooked down. You can always ADD salt, you can never TAKE IT OUT.
See that…that dish you thought would take so long to make? It’s not that hard and here’s why, Italian Plums, especially San Marzanos cook down rather quickly, the ingredients are packed with flavor which gives up some of that to the sauce. Garnish with the remaining parsley and peperoncino.
And in your mind, let this be the view you have in your mind while enjoying the meal. Sunset over the Bay of Naples and Monte Vesuvio (pic taken by me in June of 2008).
La Bella Napoli!!