I bet you can think back to childhood and recall a dish that your Mom made involving tomato sauce. Whether it was plain "red sauce" or spaghetti with meatballs, tomato-based pasta dishes are kid- and crowd-pleasers. My husband Eric loves Spaghetti Bolognese, a simple Italian pasta dish made with ground beef, and so I set out to explore variations on this traditional sauce.
While many of the best pasta sauces are made with just a few simple, fresh ingredients, one of the dishes that I find most bold and flavorful is Spaghetti alla Puttanesca. It centers on a few more unusual ingredients that give it extra punch and briny flavor. Puttanesca literally translates to "in the style of the whore," which I found out only in researching the history of the dish for this blog post! There are a few colorful stories about why this dish may have gotten the name; in one version, supposedly it was a quick and easy sauce for prostitutes to make between customers. The ingredients of the sauce are typical of southern Italian cuisine, including crushed tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil, black olives, capers, and anchovy fillets.
Now you may be saying to yourself, anchovy fillets? Those tiny, salty, stinky fish that I deliberately ask servers to leave off my Caesar salad? Yes, one and the same. However I have come to appreciate anchovies as a secret ingredient that adds an immense amount of depth and complexity to a dish. These tiny fillets dissolve into sauces and offer an umami quality. It's something you may not even know is there, but its presence is essential. Caesar salad dressing is an example of this; anchovy is commonly used in the dressing itself, so while you ask to have the full fillets held from your salad, you are still enjoying the umami quality of anchovy as part of the tossed leaves.
This puttanesca recipe can be made ahead of time, and left to simmer on the stove for a few hours in order for the flavors to fully develop. Or you can prepare it quickly in just twenty minutes as an easy weeknight meal. The marriage of the fresh and briny ingredients creates an explosion of flavor in your mouth; you can serve this not-so-typical sauce over spaghetti, zucchini noodles (if you want a lighter variation), or over roasted chicken breasts. I hope you enjoy this adult version of tomato sauce!