Best Italian pasta puttanesca: the ultimate recipe


Are you looking for an extremely fragrant sauce? Try pasta puttanesca recipe, bursting with flavor and easy to prepare, a word: unforgettable!

What is the origin of pasta alla puttanesca?

A traditional recipe from Central Italy, Lazio and Campania, it has spread all over Italy. According to the legend, this recipe was invented by the prostitutes who wanted to cook something fast for their clients. This pasta is as hot as its origin!

What is puttanesca sauce made of?

Puttanesca is made of simple ingredients you have in your pantry: good olive oil, olives, cappers, chili peppers, and high quality tomato puree…well a burst of Mediterranean flavor. 

Actually, this is my now variation, because the genuine recipe wants anchovies, I am allergic to- so, if you like fish, add some anchovies fillets, puttanesca will get even more flavorful. 

What does the Italian word puttanesca mean? Why is it called puttanesca sauce?

You may encounter plenty of tales about the “birth” of puttanesca. According to the one of them, it was invented by a Neapolitan architect who also ran a restaurant when he had to cook something easy for unexpected friends; he seasoned a smoking hot dish of spaghetti with a few simple ingredients he had in his pantry.

This is what he wrote in his diary: “…A lot of years ago, it was late night, a few friends showed up and sat at a table. They were very hungry, but I had run out of everything, so I told them I couldn’t prepare anything, I was so sorry! They insisted.”Sandro, it is very late, we can’t go anywhere else,  we are very hungry, so prepare “any puttanata” (in Italians is a quite gross word which means veggie).

A very unrefined word which was turned into …puttanesca at once! 

Best Italian pasta puttanesca: the ultimate recipe
Best Italian pasta puttanesca: the ultimate recipe

Is Puttanesca fishy? How can you replace anchovies?

Yes, a few traditional recipes do want anchovies, other ones don’t. You may not use anchovies because the sauce is already very flavorful.

If you like fish, but you prefer a more delicate taste, replace anchovies with a small tin of tuna.

Which are the best olive for puttanesca?

The slightly sweet taste of the plump dark purple Gaeta olives best fit this recipe, but pitted green olives may be used as well: they are more delicate and much easier to find.

Opt for brine or salt cured olives.

Italian pasta puttanesca: the ultimate recipe

It is a simple, fast to prepare spaghetti dish. Take all the ingredients for a very flavorful meals. Along with a nice crispy salad, this  spaghetti provides you with an easy to digest lunch, indeed.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword pasta alla puttanesca, puttanesca, puttanesca sauce
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings 4 people


  • 380 gr pasta, preferably, spaghetti or linguine. Short pasta may fit as well. 
  • 100 gr very ripe cherry tomatoes or a small can of peeled plum tomato
  • 6-8 anchovy fillets (to taste )
  • 1 clove garlic
  • parsley (extra)
  • a few fresh basil leaves (extra but highly recommended )
  • chili peper
  • 50 gr green pitted olives or 100g green unpitted olives 
  • salt-cured capers
  • Parmigiano Reggiano (to taste)
  • salt and pepper 


  • Fill 3/4 of a stock pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil; 
  • Rinse away the salt from the cappers, and soak them for a few minutes;
  • In the meanwhile, prepare the sauce: in a pan with a little oil, sauté the finely sliced garlic- or crush it if you prefer a more delicate taste, with the chili pepper over medium high heat until light golden brown; 
  • Add the anchovy fillets and let them melt completely (if you don’t want any anchovies in your dish, skip this step); 
  • Add the tomatoes and cook until the sauce gets thicker; 
  • Season with salt and pepper and stir in the olives and the cappers; 
  • Add some basil leaves; 
  • Reduce the heat to a low and simmer until pasta is done; 
  • When the water boils, add a generous handful of salt and cook pasta according to the cooking time on the package; 
  • Finely chop the parsley and add it to the sauce; reserve a little for the decoration; 
  • Ground a little pepper and let it simmer; 
  • Drain pasta al dente with a mesh skimmer directly into the pan with the sauce;
  • Toss with a wooden spoon until pasta is evenly coated, if the sauce gets too thick, add a little cooking water; 
  • Top with the remaining parsley and a little freshly grated Parmigiano to taste; enjoy your lunch!

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2 thoughts on “Best Italian pasta puttanesca: the ultimate recipe

  1. Hi Stefania. You have a lovely page and glad I came across it. I love cooking, and I love Italian food, but I’m not Italian in the slightest. Puttanesca has to be 1 of my favourite dishes, but was surprised to see purple or green olives instead of black, and also the use of parmesan. I love adapting most food if needed, but with Italian it just seems so wrong,as it seems initially so right, there fore I am very interested on your take on it, and will certainly give it a try. Best, Floyd

    1. Hi Floyd! Thanks a lot for your comment! Puttanesca is one of iconic Italian dishes and you can find different ways to make a good Puttanesca. In this pic I used the olives from Gaeta that are purple and some green olives but you are absolutely right because you can use black olives and the result will be scrumptious as well. You can use green olives, black or mix of them.
      We always put some grated Parmigiano or better some Pecorino Romano cheese on the top of a good plate of pasta. It’s our way to start every meal 😊. We alway say “Buon Appetito” while we have the parmigiano in one hand and the grater in the other, ahaha!

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