Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This Pasta is Pimpin' ! - Spaghettini alla Puttanesca

Most people have become aware of the origins of this dish.
It's all over the net, usually labeled "Whore Pasta" or something clever like "Pastatute". However there seem to be conflicting stories as the the WHY it is called this.

Some cite it is a 1950's dish created when prostitutes were only allowed to shop 1 day a week, others state it is simply "alla Casalinga" that has been "spiced up" or "tarted up" to use an English phrase; others tout that the scent was used like a "Sirens Song" to draw men to the brothel, some insist that it was the speed at which it could be cooked, eluding that it could be cooked in the time it took to "entertain" a guest, so the meal could be eaten between clients. Which, considering that it only takes about 15 minutes, is kind of insulting to the stamina of Italian men. ;) Finally, others claim that it stems from the word "Puttanata" (meaning Garbage or whatever "Junk" is in the pantry).

The final explanation, although much more prosaic and not as scandalous, makes more sense, at least to me. Standard Puttanesca contains very little in the way of fresh ingredients, like so many other Italian dishes. Everything is preserved in some way shape or form and would be part of a standard dry pantry in Italy, unless you happen to use fresh tomatoes.

You be the judge... Whatever the real story behind Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, it smells incredibly intense, it's quick to prepare and most importantly, extremely delicious!!!!

Historically it is made with Spaghetti or Bucatini, however, my own personal preference is Spaghettini. It's thicker than Capellini (Angel Hair), but thinner than Spaghetti. It seems to be easier to toss with the smaller sized ingredients and, since the sauce is dependent on the loose starch on the surface of the pasta, 1 lb of spaghettini has more surface area than 1 lb of spaghetti; thus the sauce holds together better.

About anchovies.... Please keep an open mind. If you think that you hate anchovies, it could be because you have never had properly prepared Italian ones. Sicily, in particular, produces anchovies packed in Olive oil, with little or no salt. They are more like a sardine. This dish is not suppose to be made with those gnarly over salted rolled up things that adorn WAY too many pizzas in the U.S. We have a glut of bad anchovies in the United States. When in doubt, go for the Anchovy paste, it's very low in salt, and you can control the amount you are using better. 1 inch = 1 anchovy Personally, I love the ones packed in Olive oil, so I use the whole tin (which is a heaping TB of paste)

I simply smash them into a paste with a fork.

About capers.... Whether salt packed or vinegar brined, always quick rinse your capers.
Rough chop them and your good to go.

About olives... I thought I had the Gaeta olives, but I was wrong, so I had to use a can of California black olives. (sigh) Oh well.
Kalamatas will work well also but, alas, I forgot to pick up a jar after I made Focaccia the last time.. oops!!!
Ultimately, you want an oil cured olive like Gaeta or a brined olive like Liguria or Ponentine. But good old California Black ones will work in a pinch. And in all honestly the spirit of the dish is to use what's in the pantry... Please forgive the me for using the wrong olives... :)

Spaghettini alla Puttanesca

1 lb Spaghettini or Bucatini
3 cloves Garlic (minced fine)
1 1/2 tsp Crushed red pepper flake
3 Anchovy fillets (smashed with a fork) or 2 inches of Anchovy paste.
1 Can (15oz) Diced Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Chicken Stock
3 TB Capers in Vinegar, not salt (chopped roughly)
6 oz Black Olives (Cut in Half)
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 sprigs of Flat-leaf Parsley (chopped rough)
3 leaves of chiffonade Basil
optional - Pecorino Romano

In a skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and garlic, sweat briefly.

Add crushed red pepper, and sweat to allow the olive oil to pull flavor from the flakes

Add smashed anchovy and stir until mixed into the hot oil.

Add diced Tomatoes and bring to a simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Add chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes, to reduce it just slightly.

Add olives and capers then bring back to a simmer and hold it for 3 more minutes.

Pour over drained Spaghetti and toss.

Sprinkle with chopped Parsley and chiffonade Basil

Pecorino Romano is completely optional. And in all honestly, since there IS fish in the sauce I tend to not use cheese. Because of the flavor of the dish is SO strong, Parmigiano-Reggiano actually gets lost in this sea of flavor, it's just a little to tame. If you must use cheese I would recommend going with Pecorino Romano it has enough wild backbone to stand up to the riot of flavors.

Spaghettini Alla Puttanesca on Foodista


Unknown said...

It looks awesome!! But I can't eat anchovies. is there a non-fish alternative? how much do anchovies add to a recipe or how much will be lacking in a recipe if anchovies are omitted?

Shane T. Wingerd said...

Danielle - I don't see why you could not leave out the anchovy. Anchovy is high in glutamate, what makes things savory. So you could replace it with something else high in glutamate like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or use veal stock instead of chicken stock.

Bob said...

Pastatute! Ha! That's hilarious. :D

Dajana said...

I'm also not so fond of anchovy, if possible I replace it with a bit of sausage, just to give more flavour.
but your dishes look so good, Shane, I'd probably eat it anyway