10 ways that puttanesca got its name

Spaghetti puttanesca

Everyone knows that puttanesca means essentially 'whore's pasta'. However, the specifics of how it got this name are disputed to this very day. I've done a little research to collect some of the most likely origins of the name, and in case you're wondering, no I didn't just make some up to get ten.

  1. It's fiery and spicy, just like prostitutes.
  2. It was offered cheaply to customers to entice them into the brothels.
  3. It's quick to make so it could be cooked easily in between customers.
  4. It could be made from ingredients that keep well, as prostitutes often didn't have the opportunity to visit the markets every day.
  5. The intense aroma of the garlic, anchovies, and capers drew men by their noses to the brothels.
  6. The intense aroma was also advantageous to the women, who found that it deterred customers from breaking the 'no kissing' rule.
  7. Being red, it camouflaged well under the tawdry red lights. How this is of any advantage, I'm not sure.
  8. Because your mum makes it. Burn!
  9. Olives are considered by some cultures to have contraceptive effects. Particularly cultures with high birth rates.
  10. An early incarnation of the dish actually contained chlamydia.

Which one of these ten equally legitimate suggestions is the true origin of pasta puttanesca we may never know, but thankfully the recipe has remained intact throughout the ages. And here it is.

Spaghetti puttanesca

Ingredients (serves 1):

  • 100g spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 1 small chili, sliced thinly (or substitute red pepper flakes to taste)
  • 1/3 cup of canned tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, torn roughly
  • 1 tbsp capers, drained (salt-packed are preferable)
  • 2 tbsp kalamata olives, pitted and halved

1. Boil a pot of salted water and add the spaghetti. You can make the sauce before the pasta finishes cooking.
2. Sauté the garlic with the olive oil on a medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the anchovies and chilies and cook for a further 30 seconds.
3. Add the tomatoes and parsley, and cook over a high heat until the tomatoes break down and thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in the olives1 and capers. The sauce can then be held until the pasta is cooked.
4. Once the pasta is almost al dente, drain it and toss with the sauce over a high heat. Add a little pasta water if it's looking too dry. Serve with grated parmesan.

(1) I find the olives can get bitter if you add them earlier and cook them with the sauce.

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