Pasta Puttanesca is one of those dishes which prompt an ‘Ooooh MATRON’ moment. A puttanesca is a little prostitute. Cue recipes for Tart’s Spaghetti (Delia) and Slut’s Spaghetti (Nigella) or Prostitute Pasta (my inner 12 year old). No one is sure where the name comes from, whether it’s a quick dish to be cooked and eaten between clients or from the hot and gutsy nature of the ingredients. And they are full-flavoured – garlic, chilli, tomatoes, olives, capers and anchovies.
There are two methods of making this dish that I’ve found. You can go for slow cooking with tinned tomatoes and let the flavours build as the sauce reduces, or you can go for quick cooking and fresh tastes. As we’ve got the best of the fresh tomatoes now, I decided to go for the quick cook version here. I’ll do the slow recipe when the weather is colder and wetter.
The main problem with making this recipe vegetarian (and vegan actually) is how to replace the anchovies. You can just miss them out entirely, which is a perfectly acceptable solution, but it misses the background depth of flavour that the anchovies give to the dish. A certain welly is missing. I thought long and hard about what to use to replace it. Marmite? Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce? Mushroom Ketchup? Miso paste? I thought about all of them and ended up discarding them as being alien to the mediterranean flavours of tomatoes, olives and basil. At least, that’s my opinion in the fresh version, I may revisit this for the slow-cook recipe. In the end I went for balsamic vinegar. Now, I’m not going to pretend that it has the same flavour of anchovies, but it does give a background strength of flavour that doesn’t overpower the more delicate version with fresh tomatoes.
A quick note on the tomatoes. These have to be the ripest of tomatoes or you’re wasting your time making a fresh tomato sauce. As far as I’m concerned, if you have to add tomato puree to boost the flavour, you may as well go with tinned tomatoes from the start. A quick tip on preparing the tomatoes as well. If you want to cut down the pain of skinning tomatoes, try grating them. Cut them in half and then use the coarse side of a box grater. This leaves you with the pulp but without the skin. Or you could get with the quick and dirty nature of the dish and just leave the skins on!
250g pasta (I prefer rigatoni or penne)
3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1/3 red chilli, chopped
6 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp capers, chopped
12 black olives, pitted and chopped
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
As soon as you put your pasta on to boil, heat some good olive oil in a small frying pan.
When the oil is hot add the garlic and chilli.
As soon as the garlic starts to brown add the tomatoes, capers, olives and balsamic vinegar.
Stir for a minute on a high heat and then lower the heat and let the sauce simmer and reduce while the pasta cooks.
Season with salt and pepper.
When the pasta is cooked and draining, turn the heat off the sauce and stir in the basil.
Add the drained pasta to the sauce and stir thoroughly.
Serve in warmed dishes.