Recipes

PENNE RISOTTATE ALLA PUTTANESCA or RISOTTO-STYLE PENNE WITH PUTTANESCA SAUCE

This is a puttanesca sauce pasta cooked in risotto-style.

I prepared this recipe because Mark asked me to. For him it’s a memory from a childhood trip to Italy. He was in Rome at the age of six with his parents when he ordered his first pasta “alla puttanesca“, and he did it because he was amazed by the presence of some of his favorite ingredients together: capers, anchovies, and black olives.

Among the sauces used to complement pasta, “alla puttanesca” is one of the best known: a simple and popular recipe, prepared with very few ingredients.
There are two cities that contend its invention, Rome and Naples. In fact, the same dish can be found in both Roman and Neapolitan cuisine, with one substantial difference: the use of anchovies. In Rome this is a fundamental ingredient in the preparation of the recipe, while in Naples it is not even mentioned. Neapolitans simply call the dish “pasta aulive e cchjapparielle” (olives and capers). Another point of disaccord between the two versions is the type of pasta to be used: spaghetti, vermicelli or linguine in Naples, and penne in Rome.
Even the origin of the name seems uncertain and many distinguished gastronomic experts have ventured into probable interpretations, all quite colorful. According to the tradition that “pasta alla puttanesca” is typical of Rome, at the beginning of the twentieth century, an innkeeper designed this dish specifically for the visitors of a brothel that was located on the outskirts of the city. A very similar version holds that “pasta alla puttanesca” was born in Naples and more precisely in the Quartieri Spagnoli — at the beginning of the twentieth century, this famous Neapolitan district was home to all sorts of activities, including a red-light district. One day the owner of one of the brothels decided to refresh his guests by inventing a simple and quick dish, and that’s how he created this pasta with a colorful name. Another version attributes the invention of this recipe to a certain “Ivette”, a Provencal prostitute with a rather self-deprecating sense of humor who gave it this name in honor of her profession.

Mark asked me to prepare the sauce thinking that we could eat it with everything, even with the broccoli in our fridge. I decided to prepare pasta and while I was preparing the sauce I thought that it could be interesting to try the technique called “risottata”. It is a cooking technique widely used in Italian restaurants, which allows the pasta to retain all of its starch and produce a soft and creamy sauce.
We ate it in front of the television, watching The Sopranos (because they always eat pasta and that makes me homesick).

Here is the recipe, two portions, of course.
Ready in 30 minutes.

INGREDIENTS (WHAT):

  • 2 cups (500 gr.) water
  • 1 tablespoon (10 gr.) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, halved
  • 4 flat anchovy fillets in oil
  • 2 tablespoons (30 gr.) salted capers, rinsed
  • 10 to 12 (30 gr.) pitted-oil-cured black olives, chopped
  • dried oregano to taste (I suggest 5 to 7 pinches)
  • red pepper flakes to taste (I suggest one pinch)
  • 1 cup (250 gr.) tomato sauce
  • 7 ounces (200 gr.) penne rigate pasta
  • 4 basil leaves, rinsed and chopped

PREPARATION (HOW):

  1. In a small saucepan, bring the water to a simmer. Cover the water and keep hot.
  2. In a 10″ skillet, heat the olive oil with the garlic and the anchovies over medium heat. Sauté, stirring, until the anchovies “melt” and the garlic is lightly colored, about 1 minute.
  3. Add the capers, the olives, the red pepper and the oregano. Stir to combine, about 2 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add the tomato sauce. Stir to combine, then simmer until thick and reduced, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the pasta and stir to coat with the sauce over a medium/slow heat for no longer than 2 minutes.
  6. Cover the pasta completely with 1 cup the simmering water and mix well.
  7. Continue cooking and stirng the pasta, from now on adding the amount of water needed to keep the pasta covered, because pasta cooks in a flash with this method, so check often to determine what stage it is at while continuing to stir, about 10 minutes.
  8. When only the core of the pasta is still raw, it is time to stop adding water and allow the excess liquid to evaporate.
  9. Remove the pasta quickly from the pan and serve.

That’s all! Buon appetito!

VARIATIONS & TIPS:

WATER VS. BROTH: For this recipe I used water instead of broth because the puttanesca sauce is already salty and rich in flavor, and I didn’t want to exaggerate, but if you want to prepare a “pasta risottata” with a basic tomato sauce or other ingredients less rich in flavor I suggest using broth instead of water.

PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO: This is one of the rare cases in which I don’t use it to season, because the flavor of this sauce is already so rich, but a lot of Italians do, the choice is up to you.

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