“Once upon a time, a weary sailor wandered the dark streets of Naples after a long voyage at sea. He went knocking on the door of his favorite brothel, seeking some dinner and...” I’ll just leave that story right there. Alledgedly, puttanesca pasta really did originate in the brothels of Naples, where the local “ladies of the night” would cook this speedy, tasty, pantry-friendly dish up for their visitors post hanky-panky. It seemed to have made quite the impression with the clientele! Ever since, puttanesca has only grown in popularity (despite it’s risqué beginnings). This highly flavorful and complex sauce is surprisingly simple to make at home, and is a well known pantry powerhouse. Most of the ingredients come straight from a jar or can- fruity olives, salty capers, pungent anchovies, and juicy tomatoes compose the majority of this shelf stable list. Puttanesca sauce comes together quickly and never fails to disappoint. If you’re wanting to simplify this further, just skip the shrimp! I’ve made my version a little “extra” by adding in some succulent seafood... try elevating this further with some cooked lobster meat thrown in in the last 5 minutes in place of shrimp!! Oh la la. Drained canned tuna, although not quite as romantic, would also be delicious (and keep the meal in line with the “pantry” theme). Fennel can be hard to find and you can omit it in this recipe, but if you spot a bulb at your local store I highly encourage you to snag it! It’s a perfect partner to the shrimp and lends a mild, anise flavor to the assertive sauce.
prep time: 10 min. cook time: ~25 min. serves: 4-6
1 lb peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp, tails on or off per your preference
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 small fennel bulb, cored and diced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
2 tsp anchovy paste
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried oregano
1-28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes with juice
12 oz dried spaghetti (about 3/4 of a standard package)
chopped Italian parsley and fennel fronds
INSTRUCTIONS Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti to cook until al dente and then drain in a colander. While the pasta cooks, start the sauce.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large, high-sided sauté pan set over medium heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Add the shrimp in an even layer to the hot oil, cooking about 1-2 minutes per side (don’t cook them all the way through yet). Transfer the shrimp to a plate.
Add another splash of oil to the pan and toss in the onion and fennel. Sweat the vegetables 5-7 minutes, until they are beginning to become soft and lightly browned at the edges. Season them with a pinch of salt.
Next, add in the garlic, capers, olives, parsley, anchovy paste, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Stir the mixture into the onions and fennel and cook 2 minutes more, until fragrant. Pour the tomatoes and their juices into the pan. Use a potato masher or pastry cutter to crush them into the sauce, stirring to evenly mix. Season the sauce with 1/2 tsp salt and a little more black pepper to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce the sauce to simmer and let it cook over low heat for 5 minutes. At the end of 5 minutes, add the shrimp and simmer 3-5 minutes more- until it has cooked through all the way and the flavors in the sauce have melded.
Toss the spaghetti into the sauce to coat. Simmer an additional 1-2 minutes. Serve the puttanesca hot with more parsley and some chopped fennel fronds sprinkled on top. Enjoy!