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This classic Italian pasta puttanesca recipe features garlic, capers and olives in the sauce to give it a tangy burst of flavor.

Pasta puttanesca recipe
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Have you ever made a pasta puttanesca recipe? It’s a spicy Italian pasta sauce with a somewhat dubious namesake: see the What is pasta puttanesca? section below for what it means in Italian! Not only is it easy to make, but its incredibly robust flavor also makes for a flavorful and satisfying meal. It’s a perfect, simple meal to whip up for guests, or even on a weeknight. The key to this pasta puttanesca recipe is the olives – make sure to get good quality Kalamata olives! If you’re not an olive person, I’d still give this one a try. Kalamata olives straight out of the jar have a strong taste, but within the sauce they make for a wonderful flavor that’s not too overpowering.

Related:10 Romantic Dinner Recipes

pasta puttanesca in white bowl with fork

What is pasta puttanesca?

Often associated with Naples, Italy, puttanesca is a rich sauce made from anchovies, capers, olives, and sometimes garlic, chili peppers, and red pepper flakes. Although generally served with spaghetti, pasta puttanesca can work with any long pasta shape. We used bucatini with this pasta puttanesca, a type of pasta that’s basically a hollow spaghetti noodle.

What does pasta puttanesca mean? Literally in Italian it’s “spaghetti in the style of a whore”. Historians don’t quite know why. But according to this source, it isn’t too far-fetched to say that the powerful mix of anchovies, olives, and capers might have something in common with the scent of a mid-century Italian prostitute. Either way, it’s an incredibly delicious simple pasta dish that’s appropriate for people of all ages, despite the name!

We’ve omitted the anchovies from our pasta puttanesca recipe, but you can add them in if desired (3 to 4 minced, or 2 tablespoons anchovy paste). Overall, we found this adaption suited our tastes with just the right amount of spice and not too much oil (as some pasta puttanesca versions can tend towards the oily side). We’ll definitely be adding this one to our repertoire – future dinner guests, beware!

vegetarian pasta in white bowl with fork
homemade pasta puttanesca in white bowl

How to store pasta puttanesca sauce

This sauce will keep well in the fridge for four to five days, but you can also store it in the freezer for up to three months. To freeze this pasta puttanesca, let it cool to room temperature before transferring it to an air-tight container (mason jars work well for this). You can also freeze the sauce in freezer-safe bags; lay the bags flat on a baking tray until frozen, then store them in the freezer however you’d like. Freezing the bags of sauce on a tray makes it easier to store them, as they take up less space this way. When you’re ready to enjoy this sauce, simply pop a jar into your fridge until thawed, then reheat on the stove.

vegetarian pasta in white bowl with fork

Looking for more Italian recipes?

Outside of this pasta puttanesca recipe, here are a few more of our favorite Italian recipes:

This pasta puttanesca recipe is…

Pescatarian. For vegetarian, omit the anchovy paste. For vegan, dairy-free and plant-based, omit the Parmesan garnish. For gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta.

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vegetarian pasta in white bowl with fork

Easy Pasta Puttanesca Recipe


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5 from 1 review

  • Author: a Couple Cooks
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6 1x
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Description

This classic Italian pasta puttanesca recipe features garlic, capers and olives in the sauce to give it a tangy burst of flavor.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 pound long pasta noodles (spaghetti, bucatini, etc)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons anchovy paste or 3 anchovy fillets (omit for vegetarian or vegan)
  • 32-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup Kalamata olives, sliced
  • ¼ cup capers
  • Parsley, Parmesan cheese, and red pepper flakes, for garnish (omit cheese for vegan)

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of of salted water to a boil (about 1 tablespoon kosher salt). Boil the pasta until al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, mince the garlic. If the olives are not sliced, slice them in half. In a separate large pot or saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium low heat. Add the garlic and anchovy paste and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and kosher salt, and simmer for 10 minutes over low heat.
  3. Add the olives and capers to the tomato sauce. Continue to simmer until the pasta is done.
  4. Drain the pasta and stir it into the tomato sauce. Serve garnished with Parmesan cheese and finely chopped parsley, and additional red pepper flakes to taste.
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes and the joy of cooking! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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13 Comments

  1. Mike says:

    The reason the pasta is called whores pasta is because it is made from ingredients that are available late at night long after all the shops that sell fresh ingredients are closed. A whores live is not glamorous and they often had to work all day and night to get enough money to buy something to eat.

  2. Loryn says:

    Thanks for another great recipe! I worried that 12 cloves of garlic would be too much, but it wasn’t at all. I couldn’t get San Marzano tomatoes out here in rural Indiana. Where do you find them in Indy?

    1. Sonja says:

      Oh, so glad you enjoyed it! We get San Marzanos at the Fresh Market near our house; we’ve also seen them at Marsh. Hope you can get ahold of some!

  3. Devoney says:

    I love this recipe! Capers are also a great add in.

  4. Erin says:

    I have never tried puttanesca sauce before. Partly because I am not a huge fan of Kalamata Olives, but maybe I will have to rethink it. Thanks!

  5. Regina says:

    This is my Mom, Susie & Step dad, Stanley’s favorite dish of all time!!!!
    I will have to try making it sometime…..in honor of their memory. :)

  6. simone says:

    I love puttanesca sauce on my pasta too and this looks really good. My boyfriend hates olives so that tends to be a problem in general but I’ll try and see if I can sneak this sauce in.. :)

  7. An Alaskan Cooks | Alaska Food and Wine says:

    Puttanesca hasn’t been in my culinary repertoire — but that’s about to change as a result of your photo and recipe. There’s a sweet little Italian grocery that opened here in Anchorage not long ago, so I know I’ll be able to find the San Marzano tomatoes (never stocked at our regular grocery stores) and – unlike you – I love Kalmata olives. Thank you for sharing this recipe!

    1. Sonja says:

      That is wonderful! I hope you were able to get this a try. We love using San Marzanos in our Italian dishes – I’m glad you’re able to find them!

  8. Leah says:

    Um, I also noted your bowl just now! I love that type of heavy farm crockery in blue and white. An antique store find? My mom has lots of bowls like that, some of which she inherited from her grandmother and aunt.

    1. Sonja says:

      Actually, the bowl is on loan from Alex’s mom (thanks, Lin!). I’m not sure where she found it, but she is a regular around antique stores and auctions. I’d love to find more like this too!

  9. Leah says:

    One of my favorite recipes ever. I also put in one or two tablespoons of anchovy paste, in with the garlic/tomato paste. It makes a great flavor base. And sometimes as the tomatoes are cooking down, I’ll add a little red wine; the alcohol cooks out but the flavors intensify :-)