Cookbook:Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Cookbook | Ingredients | Recipes | Cuisine of Italy | Pasta Recipes

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Category Italian recipes
Time 1 hour

Spaghetti alla puttanesca (Italian: "whore's spaghetti") is a spicy, tangy and somewhat salty Italian pasta dish. Italians refer to the sauce as sugo alla puttanesca.

The earliest reference to spaghetti alla puttanesca in print, cited by the Grande dizionario della lingua italiana, occurred in Raffaele La Capria’s 1961 novel Ferito a morte. Also, Italy's Professional Association of Pasta Makers agrees the sauce became popular in the 1960s.[1]


According to Annarita Cuomo, writer for Il Golfo, a newspaper serving the Italian islands of Ischia and Procida, sugo alla puttanesca was invented in the 1950s by Sandro Petti, co-owner of Rancio Fellone, a famous Ischian restaurant and nightspot.[2]

The moment of inspiration came, writes Cuomo, when near closing one evening Petti found a group of hungry friends sitting at one of his tables. Petti was low on ingredients and told them he didn't have enough to make them a meal. They complained that it was late and they were hungry. "Facci una puttanata qualsiasi" (“make any kind of garbage”), they insisted. In this usage, puttanata is a noun meaning garbage or something worthless. It is also derived from the Italian word puttana, meaning whore.

Petti had nothing more than four tomatoes, two olives and some capers; the basic ingredients for the sugo. “So I used them to make the sauce for the spaghetti,” Petti told Cuomo.

Later, Petti included the dish on his menu as spaghetti alla puttanesca.

Cooking with chili peppersEdit

This recipe calls for chili peppers. Choosing the right quantity and type of pepper depends on your personal taste and a bit of trial and error. For this dish, most chefs use peppers in the moderate range of the Scoville scale. Use one or one and a half small peppers the first time you make this recipe. Use one and a half or two small peppers if your first attempt at making sugo leaves you craving more pepper heat. Keep increasing the number of peppers until you get it right. Most chefs stop at three.


Ingredients vary a bit among chefs and cooks according to individual tastes. However, the version from Lazio always includes anchovies while the Neapolitan version never does.[3][4]

An Italian-American version of this dish has emerged that omits butter and oregano but includes onions, anchovies and chili peppers.[5] Also, Americans tend to call the Italian-American version pasta puttanesca rather than spaghetti alla puttanesca.

Finally, both recipes below contain very little protein. However, shrimp and scallops sautéd in olive oil go beautifully with this dish. If you can't eat shellfish then add canned tuna or broiled salmon to the pasta before coating it with sugo.

Lazio recipe (serves six to eight)Edit


  • 600 grams (21 ounces) of spaghetti
  • 50 grams (1.75 ounces) of butter
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 115 grams (4 ounces) unsalted anchovy fillets, crushed into a paste (omit anchovies for Neapolitan version)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 200 grams (7 ounces) of black olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of salted capers, washed well and coarsely chopped
  • 1 to 3 small dried chili peppers, chopped (optional)
  • 900 grams (roughly 2 pounds) plum tomatoes, peeled and puréed
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley
  • salt to taste


  1. Put the following in a skillet: butter, olive oil, garlic and anchovy paste.
  2. Before the garlic browns, add the olives, capers, tomato sauce and chili peppers.
  3. Add two to three pinches of salt, mixing at high heat.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in salt water (at least 4 quarts of water per pound of spaghetti being cooked). Strain it when it's al dente. Place it in a large serving bowl and coat it with sauce. Then sprinkle it with chopped parsley.
  5. Mix and serve hot.

Italian-American recipe (serves six)Edit


  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound onions, chopped
  • 1 ounce garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces (two small tins) anchovy fillets or anchovy paste
  • 1 ounce capers, thoroughly rinsed
  • 1 to 3 fresh or dried, hot chili peppers, deseeded and finely chopped (see information above on choosing hot chili peppers)
  • 6 ounces (1 standard, American-sized can) pitted, black or kalamata olives, quartered
  • 43.5 ounces (3 standard, American-sized cans) tomatoes, diced
  • salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 pound dry spaghetti or linguine


  1. Fill a large pot with water and add a handful of salt.
  2. Set heat on high to boil water.
  3. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add onions to skillet and cook until soft, stirring occasionally. Be careful not to burn the onions.
  5. Add garlic and anchovies to skillet. Cook for one minute maximum, stirring to break up the anchovies.
  6. Add capers, chili peppers, olives, tomatoes, pepper and 1 tablespoon of salt to skillet.
  7. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste to see if you want to add more salt.
  8. Boil the pasta until al dente while the sauce is simmering. This should take about 12 minutes.
  9. Drain the cooked pasta in a colander and replace it in the same pot.
  10. Pour the sauce on top of the pasta and toss over low heat until it's thoroughly coated.
  11. Take it off the heat and top with parsley and one tablespoon of olive oil.
  12. Serve hot.

For both recipesEdit

Italians customarily do not top this dish with grated cheese.