When it is cold outside and you really need the feel of something Mediterranean, but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen making sauces, then Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is the thing to make.
Ok, so this is something that is made only during the summer in Italy, but I love the saltiness of the anchovies and tang of the olives and you can have those most times of the year. The heat that comes through from the peppery flakes of chillies warms me on the coldest of afternoons. What’s more, it is made from things in the cupboard, takes little time at all, and is fantastically low GI (if that’s your thing).
2 garlic cloves (thinly sliced)
2 tablespoons capers
4 tablespoons black olives (pitted and quartered)
5 anchovy fillets, rinsed and finely chopped
2 tomatoes chopped
2 tablespoons of passata (or use puree but it will be a little thicker)
400g spaghetti (the rough version so the sauce sticks)
Basil (if you can find it)
5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Chilli flakes (as hot as you wish)
Salt and pepper.
1. Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then the chili flakes to add even more flavour to the oil. Then tip in the tomatoes, passata, capers, anchovies, and olives. Simmer the lot for 10 minutes until thickened slightly, season to taste – but go easy on the salt because of the anchovies.
2. While that lot is thickening nicely, cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions adding some salt only when the water is boiling.
3. Drain, toss with the sauce add the basil and serve, and have some crusty bread ready to mop up the sauce.
The history of the dish is a bit fuddled. Like all of these inspirational what’s in the cupboard type dishes, many claim that they started it and put it on their menu first. Cookbook author Diane Seed claims that another name for spaghetti alla puttanesca is ‘spaghetti alla buona donna’ (where “buona donna” is an ironic name for a prostitute). This is because brothel prostitutes were only allowed to shop weekly and could only cook with pantry staples. Not particularly romantic, or what you would want to tell the family when they sat down to eat. Much better, perhaps, is Annarita Cuomo, writing in Il Golfo, claiming it was invented in the 1950s by Sandro Petti, co-owner of Rancio Fellone, a famous Ischian restaurant. Apparently the inspiration came near closing one evening, and 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” or “make any kind of garbage,” they insisted. (puttanata is a noun meaning something worthless or something easy to prepare even though it derives from the Italian word for whore, puttana which links neatly to the history suggested by Diane.) Which is right, I don’t really care. I just love it.