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Penne puttanesca is without doubt one of the simplest pasta dishes you can ever hope to make. You can literally throw in staples from your pantry or fridge.
The puttanesca origin goes back centuries in Italy and, as you would expect, there is quite a story behind this dish, which just adds to its mystique. The story of the recipe for puttanesca sauce is so fascinating we share it before we move on to our penne puttanesca recipe.
But before that, I have to tell you about the inspiration for writing about penne puttanesca. We were lucky enough to attend cooking demonstrations at the Milan Expo from a Michelin-starred chef, a former rugby player can you believe. He prepared a very gourmet version of penne puttanesca, Not only was this a fabulous cooking demonstration (and tasting)
A Gourmet Version of Penne Puttanesca
The chef was Marco Martini, from Stazione di Posta in Rome. His restaurant is Michelin-starred. From what we could gather he is a well known, well reputed, Italian chef. He formerly represented Italy playing rugby and had a very engaging personality. His recipe was puttanesca penne, but one with a difference. It was very gourmet and almost the opposite of the true puttanesca origin.
The demonstration was in Italian, translated into English. At the conclusion of the demonstration you could sample the dish. It lasted about an hour and was interesting.
We learnt penne, although popular in Italy, is not used that much by restaurants. Spaghetti usually accompanies a puttanesca sauce. In Italy such a dish would be called spaghetti alla puttanesca and it is extremely popular.
Watching this demonstration was eye-opening and you can see why highly rated restaurants are expensive. Marco’s recipe for puttanesca sauce consisted of 5 components:
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- concentrated home made tomato puree including oregano
- concentrated olive “powder” (olives baked overnight in a very slow oven)
- concentrated anchovy “powder” (same treatment as the olive powder)
- parsley puree
- tomato water (added to the boiling water to cook the pasta and used to finish off the dish)
If you look closely at the above picture you might notice the penne is “ribbed” as opposed to a smooth, round shape. The ribbed version is called penne rigate. It tastes the same as standard penne of course but it reputedly works better because thick sauces, like our recipe for puttanesca sauce, stick better to the pasta!
But, don’t worry about this dish being fiddly; nothing could be further from the truth.
Penne Puttanesca for the Common Person
Unlike the gourmet version produced by Marco, the puttanesca origin demands you throw whatever you have left over in your fridge or pantry into your own recipe for puttanesca sauce.
Our penne puttanesca is an easy sauce to make that is not complicated, using many items you will find in a good delicatessen or supermarket.
There is also a story behind this recipe. If you research the origin of puttanesca sauce, it seems it was a favorite of “working girls” if you get my drift, who wanted something quick and could be made form pantry staples. I’m not sure about that but I do know that this recipe is delicious and is easy to make.
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|Servings||Prep Time||Cook Time|
- 1 lb penne pasta dried
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion, brown finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic finely diced
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes dried
- 1/2 cup parsley fresh, chopped
- 8 anchovies roughly chopped*
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp oregano, dried dried
- 4 medium tomatoes roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp capers rinsed
- 1/2 cup olives
- parmigiano reggiano grated*
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add salt and then add the dried penne. Cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a little of the cooking water.
- In a pan large enough to contain the sauce and the cooked pasta, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over a low to medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn up the heat to medium and add the chilli flakes, half the parsley, anchovies, tomato paste and dried oregano. Stir for 1 minute. Then add the tomatoes, capers and olives. Stir occasionally. The sauce will be done when the tomatoes start breaking down, about a further 4 minutes.
- Stir the drained penne into the sauce. Add all or part of the reserved cooking liquid if you need to thin the sauce.
- Serve immediately onto plates. Sprinkle the remaining parsley, the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil and the grated parmesan over the top.
I used white anchovies (brined in vinegar) instead of the usual bottled anchovies. If normal anchovies challenge your taste-buds, you will find that white anchovies are much milder. You can buy white anchovies here or from better delicatessens.
Good parmesan is worth it, you don't need as much as cheaper varieties. You can buy grano padano or parmigiano reggiano at better delicatessens.
Shari from GoodFoodWeek
Oh man, now I really feel like this for lunch or grilled sardines. YUM!
Shari, It is one of my favorites. And I love the story behind it! It was quite funny waiting on the translation!
This looks really fresh and delicious; a must try recipe.
Dhanya, The homemade version is really nice! So full of flavor.
Vicki @ Boiled Eggs & Soldiers
Oh yum, this looks great and I love how vibrant the tomatoes are in your photo’s too. Thanks so much for linking up to YWF.
Vicki, It is one of my favorite pastas, so when we heard the story, we had to share!