Spaghetti alla Puttanesca; the authentic Italian recipe.


 Authentic Spaghetti alla Puttanesca!

spaghetti alla puttanesca

Alla Puttanesca: Whore’s spaghetti!

If you speak or understand Italian you’ll know that Spaghetti alla Puttanesca literally means prostitute’s spaghetti!  ‘Puttana’ in Italian means prostitute or whore!  Despite the name, this is a very popular pasta recipe in Italy and abroad. Although, out of Italy many recipes include other ingredients which often has Italians up in arms!

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spaghetti alla puttanesca in white serving bowl

How Puttanesca got it’s name!

Like so many other Italian dishes there are various opinions on how this pasta dish got its name! Some believe that it was a dish made by a brothel owner in the Spanish quarter (red light district) of Naples. Although it’s not clear, if he offered it to his patrons or used it to entice customers through the door with the spicy, pungent aroma produced by its ingredients. Others believe  that this was the easiest thing prostitutes could prepare between customers because the low cost, easily stored  ingredients required little shopping or preparation.

spaghetti alla puttanesca ingredients

More believable, perhaps, is the story that this very popular sauce originated in Ischia around 1950. It was created by Sandro Petti, the co-owner of the restaurant Rangio Felon. The story goes that some customers arrived late to eat and because the restaurant had run out of many fresh ingredients, they asked Petti to prepare ‘una puttanata qualsiasi’, which literally translates as ‘a whore’s any’ but means any rubbish/ garbage. So Petti created a dish with what he had, or rather had left in the kitchen. The resulting pasta dish was liked so much by the customers that Petti put it on the restaurant menu calling it ‘spaghetti all puttanesca’.

spaghetti alla puttanesca chopped ingredients in white bowls

The two main Italian versions of Puttanesca

Whatever its origins, puttanesca is a very popular pasta dish. The original Neapolitan ingredients are simple  but flavourful; fresh peeled tomatoes, capers, black olives, garlic, oregano and sometimes peperoncino. The original recipe from Naples, the capital of Campania, doesn’t  actually include anchovies. That version, apparently, comes from Lazio where they replace the oregano with parsley and anchovies and sometimes use green instead of black olives. Both recipes are simple to make and very tasty. 

spaghetti alla puttanesca sauce ingredients cooking in frying pan

Italians love to talk about food and they are very vocal when it comes to discussing the correct ingredients for traditional dishes. Because there are regional versions of many popular dishes, they can often be heard disputing among themselves what is the correct way to cook something! However, when it comes to Puttanesca there are a couple of strict rules Italians all agree on. No parmesan if you make it with anchovies (Italians don’t use cheese on seafood pasta dishes) and no basil!

spaghetti alla puttanesca sauce ingredients in frying pan

Authentic or not authentic that is the question!

I recently came across a recipe on Jamie Oliver’s website for puttanesca. Jamie’s version comes from Gennarro Contaldo, a well-known Italian chef who has lived and worked in UK since 1969. This recipe is quite different from those found and eaten in Italy and includes basil and parmesan and has no capers! I spent an amusing few minutes reading the comment section under the recipe in which a number of outraged Italians had stated their total disagreement to the recipe, especially since Jamie Oliver captioned it as being authentic!

spaghetti alla puttanesca sauce in frying pan

To caper or not to caper?

The recipe here is the one from Lazio, as I love the taste of anchovies. However, capers are a must and to caper or not to caper isn’t a question of choice if you are planning to make ‘authentic’ puttanesca. For the Italians, if it doesn’t have capers, it isn’t puttanesca. So, it needs to be called something else! Of course, you should make it the way that suits your tastes. Ingredient quantities aren’t rigid, it’s still delicious if you use less or more of something. Without anchovies, it would be more like the Neapolitan version and then you might want to add some oregano! 

Buon appetito!

(Go to next page to see recipe. Just scroll down and click 2)

spaghetti alla puttanesca


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  • Camila
    April 8, 2018 2:46 am

    Pasta a lá puttanesca has got to be one of my favorites. You have really made me crave for it now!

    • admin
      April 9, 2018 10:04 am

      Thanks Camila, it’s one of my favourites too! Every time I make it I wonder why I don’t do it more often! So good! Regards from Verona! Jacqui

  • Samantha H.
    April 8, 2018 2:02 am

    I love the story of this dish! I’ve never actually tried it before though, so I’m excited to go out of my spaghetti comfort zone and give it a try!

    • admin
      April 9, 2018 10:06 am

      Grazie Samantha! Yes, lots of Italian dishes have interesting origins, some dating back to ancient times! I love including these stories in my posts. I’m sure you’d love puttanesca! I hope you do give it a try! All the best from Verona! Jacqui

  • Anna
    April 8, 2018 1:57 am

    Ha ha! I love your explanation of what Spaghetti alla Puttanesca means. Even more amusing is that the reason I love this recipe is for the very same reasons you mention – it is cost effective, uses pantry ingredients and needs little shopping or preparation.

    • admin
      April 9, 2018 10:09 am

      Thanks Anna! I love these anecdotes about the origins of Italian dishes and enjoy including them in my posts! Yes puttanesca is a fab dish because you can produce a super tasty meal with pantry ingredients and little time or cost! Greetings from Verona! Jacqui

  • sondria Harp
    April 7, 2018 8:47 pm

    I didn’t know that there was such a controversy over this dish, but now I know! Capers all the way, plus I love capers so you don’t have to twist my arm to include them. Can’t wait to make this !

    • admin
      April 9, 2018 10:10 am

      Thanks so much Sondria! I love capers too and include them in lots of recipes! Enjoy your puttanesca! Love from Verona! Jacqui

  • Lisa
    April 7, 2018 4:48 pm

    I love capers! My friend just made me a dish with them and I couldn’t believe how good they are! This looks yummy! I’ll have to give it a try!

  • Beth
    April 7, 2018 4:04 pm

    I love the learning about the origins of old recipes! This is a great story! You Italians have such colorful names for your dishes! This looks simply delicious!

    • admin
      April 9, 2018 10:12 am

      Thanks so much Beth! Yes I love learning about the origins of recipes too and enjoy sharing the stories in my posts! I think in my next life I want to be a food historian! Hugs from Verona! Jacqui

  • melve
    April 7, 2018 3:48 pm

    I love to try this Mediterranean flavors of spaghetti for a change. Looks delicious and yummy.

    • admin
      April 9, 2018 10:14 am

      Thanks so much Melve! Yes puttanesca is really a recipe of Mediterranean flavours. I’m sure you’ll love it if you try it! All the best from Verona! Jacqui

  • Stephanie
    April 7, 2018 3:09 pm

    This looks so yummy! It reminds me of A Series of Unfortunate Events where the kids make Pasta Puttanesca 🙂 Now I can make it at home!

    • admin
      April 9, 2018 10:17 am

      Thanks Stephanie I have yet to watch that series. It’s on my to-watch list! I’ll look out for the puttanesca episode! Enjoy your puttanesca at home! Love from Verona! Jacqui

  • Ali Hanson
    April 7, 2018 1:42 pm

    Puttanesca is one of my favorite flavor combinations. I make an egg salad with all of these flavors and love it!

    • admin
      April 9, 2018 10:18 am

      Egg salad with puttanesca ingredients sound delish. I’ll have to give it a try Ali! Greetings from Verona. Jacqui

  • Mimi
    March 31, 2018 2:21 pm

    I’ve enjoyed many a pasta dish during my long life, but I think puttanesca is my favorite. It’s the olives, tomatoes, and capers that win my taste buds over! And I just found some salted capers finally, and I think I’ll make puttanesca soon!

    • admin
      April 1, 2018 9:46 am

      Grazie Mimi, Yes Puttanesca is a favourite of mine too. It’s so Mediterranean! Love the flavours! Enjoy your puttanesca and Happy Easter! Jacqui

  • In Cucina con Mamma Agnese
    February 4, 2017 2:23 pm

    Questa ricetta di pasta mi piace un sacco!!
    La propongo spesso!!

    • admin
      February 9, 2017 9:36 am

      Anche a me! Ho visto il tuo blog. Hai delle belle ricette! Grazie per aver visitato il mio blog. Salute Jacqui

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