Pasta Puttanesca: the ultimate recipe

A bowl of spaghetti with tomatoes and herbs on a marble table.

Are you looking for an extremely fragrant sauce? Try the pasta puttanesca recipe, which is bursting with flavor and easy to prepare. It will be 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, puttanesca, which means “relating to a sex worker,” was invented by sex workers who wanted to cook something fast for their clients. This pasta is as hot as its origin. 

A bowl of spaghetti with tomatoes, olives and parmesan.

There are many tales about the origin of puttanesca. According to one, this recipe was invented by a Neapolitan architect who also ran a restaurant. When he had to cook something easy for some friends who had suddenly appeared, he seasoned a dish of spaghetti with a few simple ingredients that he had in his pantry.

What he wrote in his diary was, “…Many years ago, it was a late night, and 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, but they insisted.” One friend said, “Sandro, it is very late, we can’t go anywhere else; we are very hungry, so prepare any puttanata.” In Italian, this means garbage or something worthless and resembles the word, puttana or whore. What resulted from this very crude word was this infamous but delicious dish.

A plate of spaghetti with tomatoes and basil.

What is puttanesca sauce made of?

Puttanesca is made of simple ingredients that you might have in your pantry: good olive oil, olives, capers, chili peppers, and high-quality tomato sauce resulting in a burst of Mediterranean flavor.  

Because the traditional recipes call for anchovies, they are in my recipe below.  Since I am allergic to them, I don’t use them, but if you like fish, add some anchovy fillets. Your puttanesca will have even more flavor.  

A bowl of spaghetti with tomatoes and herbs on a marble table.

Which is the best olive for?

The slightly sweet taste of the plump black olives fit this recipe best. Pitted green olives may be used as well since they are much easier to find. Choose brine or salt-cured olives. Kalamata olives are a good choice.

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


  • 1 lb pof pasta, preferably, spaghetti or linguine. Short pasta may fit as well.  (454g)
  • 1/2 cup  of very ripe cherry tomatoes or a small can of peeled plum tomatoes (100g)
  • 6-8 anchovy fillets (to taste)
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • a spring  of fresh parsley (extra)
  • a few fresh basil leaves (extra but highly recommended)
  • 1 tsp of red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup  black pitted olives, such as Kalamata (50g)
  • 1/4 cup of capers (30g)
  • Parmigiano Reggiano (to taste)
  • salt and pepper 
Servings 4 people


  • Fill 3/4 of a large stock pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil; 
  • Rinse the salt off the capers; 
  • To prepare the sauce, add some olive oil to a pan, sauté the finely sliced garlic (or crush it if you prefer a more delicate taste) with the red pepper flakes over medium high heat until light golden brown; 
  • Add the anchovy fillets and let them melt completely; skip this step if omitting anchovies;
  • Add the tomatoes and cook until the sauce gets thicker; 
  • Season with salt and pepper and stir in the olives and the capers; 
  • Add some basil leaves; 
  • Reduce the heat to a low and simmer until the pasta is done; 
  • When the water boils, add a tablespoon of salt and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the package; 
  • Finely chop the parsley and add it to the sauce; reserve a little for plate decoration; 
  • Add a tip of a teaspoon of ground pepper and let it simmer; 
  • Drain the pasta in a colander and add it directly to the pan with the sauce; 
  • Toss with a wooden spoon until the pasta is evenly coated. If the sauce gets too thick, add a little pasta cooking liquid; 
  • Top the plates with the remaining parsley and a little freshly grated Parmigiano to taste; enjoy your lunch! 

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5 thoughts on “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!

  2. Pingback: 35 Best Best Italian Pasta Recipes – Best Round Up Recipe Collections

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