Puttanesca Off Line

This pasta sauce says summer to me louder than gazpacho soup. If you’re desperate for hot weather, this’ll be almost as good with canned tomatoes and dried basil.

Puttanesca, added capers and red bell pepper
Puttanesca, with added capers and red bell pepper

The temperature contrast between room temperature sauce and steaming pasta is deliberate.

Here’s a quote from a 1985 newspaper recipe by Arthur “Food Maven” Schwartz: “Some uncooked pasta sauces are called puttanesca on the theory that they were invented by prostitutes who need and like quick, lusty dishes. … An elderly and grand Florentine lady of my acquaintance, however, swears that in her day such sauces were just as regularly prepared by more respectable women who were having extramarital affairs in the afternoon. They could quickly put the sauce together early in the day, then serve it … to a never-the-wiser spouse in the evening.”

Now, 29 years later, Schwartz’s website includes puttanesca, but this one’s cooked. (July 2016 note: Schwartz’s Food Maven website is defunct.) Sure it’s a tomato quick sauce and not an all-afternoon-simmered marinara, but still. Elsewhere online, puttanesca invariably is a briefly cooked pasta sauce.

Fortunately we live in the 21st century where raw foodism continues. The raw puttanesca recipes are reassuringly similar to mine, though most include anchovies and not nearly enough tomatoes.

Rather than link to those online, consider the original hard copy here:

Here is my adaptation:

  • 2 pounds tomatoes, cut in half-inch dice
  • 1/2 to 1 cup fresh basil, loosely to tightly packed, julienned, OR 1 Tablespoon dried
  • 1-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Half teaspoon salt — to start with
  • Half teaspoon black pepper — to start with
  • Pinch red cayenne pepper flakes, optional

At least 2 hours before serving, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, cover and let stand at room temperature. If making further ahead, refrigerate.

Enough to sauce 1 pound pasta, either spaghetti or short shapes like farfalle* — 4 to 6 servings.

Variations, use any or all

  • Add 8-12 black, Kalamata Greek or green olives, pitted and chopped, to sauce
  • Add 1-2 Tablespoons capers
  • Add 1 diced sweet bell pepper
  • Add 1 14-16 oz. can chick peas, drained and rinsed — for a vegan entree
  • Instead of basil, use a combination of other fresh leafy herbs such as parsley, tarragon or sage, roughly chopped
  • Use 1 pound fresh tomatoes plus 1 (14-16 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained, instead of all fresh
  • Top with Parmesan or, for vegans, nutritional yeast flakes

*This is American-sauced pasta where the ratio is perhaps 1:1 (Italians supposedly use sauce as a little garnish to the macaroni.) Also, puttanesca is robust enough to pair with whole-grain pasta.

Adapted from Arkansas Gazette, 8/7/85, “Arthur Schwartz’ Uncooked Pasta Sauces”

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