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Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:

The name of this typical Italian dish is funny because “puttanesca” means “prostitute style.”

The story of this pasta is very old; the first recipe appeared in 1844 in a very famous cookbook by Ippolito Cavalcanti, the Cucina teorico-pratic. It is a recipe from the popular Neapolitan cuisine called Vermicelli all'oglio con olive capperi ed alici salse ("vermicelli with oil, olives, capers and salted anchovies")—very similar to the Puttanesca we cook today.

Titian's "Venus of Urbino" - possibly a portrait of the courtesan, Zaffeta

The dish, under its current name, first appears in gastronomic literature in the 1960s, but no one knows why this delicious pasta has such a strange name. It seems possible that an owner of a pleasure house used to cook this recipe for his prostitutes in Naples. It really doesn't matter! It is a very easy recipe to prepare. I cook it often because it’s full of taste, and when you don’t have anything in the fridge but a jar of capers, a jar of black olives, and a can of tomatoes, you’ll be able to cook a fantastic Italian dish!

If you want to cook something hot, salty, easy, and delicious, try this classic spaghetti recipe—the real taste of Italy! In the traditional recipe from Naples, capers and anchovies are not used, but I prefer this richest version!

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

14 oz. (400 grams) spaghetti

3 Tbsp Extra Virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, very thinly sliced

4 anchovies, rinsed if packed in salt, roughly chopped

½ tsp chilli flakes

2 oz (50 grams) black olives

1 Tbsp capers

1 can tomato sauce

Small bunch of parsley, roughly chopped

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook the garlic very gently. Add the anchovies. Stir to dissolve.

Stir in the chili flakes, then the olives and capers. Add the tomato sauce. Stir well and simmer for about ten minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted boiling water. When the spaghetti is cooked al dente, drain and put it into the frying pan. Toss well to combine.

Divide between bowls and top with the fresh parsley.


Contessa Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigileno is a true Italian—born in Florence, Italy, from a long line of eccentric Italian aristocrats, she has traveled the world in search of adventure, romance, and magical, mouth-watering recipes. "Ippo" loves Italian history, especially as it relates to food. Author of There's a Beatle in My Soup, Curcuma e Zenzero (Ginger & Tumeric), 101 Perche Sulla Storia di Firenze (101 questions on Florence History), and Superfoods, Ippo is currently finishing her latest work, The Lords of Florence (all published by Newton Compton Publishers).

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