Spaghetti alla Puttanesca; the authentic Italian recipe.


Authentic Spaghetti alla Puttanesca!

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!  However, 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!

spaghetti alla puttanesca

Alla Puttanesca: Whore’s spaghetti! How it 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.

olives, capers, parsley, anchovies, garlic and peperoncino cooking in skillet

Two rules for authentic Puttanesca

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 Parmigiano cheese if you make it with anchovies (Italians don’t usually use cheese on seafood pasta dishes) and no basil!

peeled and chopped tomatoes cooking with other puttanesca ingredients in skillet

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. It includes basil and Parmigiano 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 in white serving bowl

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, it has capers! For the Italians, if it doesn’t have capers, it isn’t puttanesca. So, it needs to be called something else!

Authentic alla puttanesca always has capers!

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!

spaghetti alla puttanesca

If you do try this spaghetti alla puttanesca recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.

Your feedback means a lot to me!

Buon appetito!

(This recipe was originally published in March 2018 but has been updated with new photos and text)

Other must-try classic pasta recipes from Lazio

  1. Spaghetti alla carbonara
  2. Bucatini all’arrabbiata
  3. Pasta cacio e pepe
  4. Pasta alla papalina

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authentic spaghetti alla puttanesca

5 from 30 votes
spaghetti alla puttanesca
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
Total Time
35 mins

An easy-to-make classic Italian spaghetti recipe with strong tasty Mediterranean flavours and an interesting history!

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Campania, Italian, Rome & Lazio
Keyword: anchovies, authentic Italian pasta recipe, capers, olives, puttanesca, spaghetti, spicy
Servings: 4
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
  • 400 g spaghetti (140z) I used spaghetti made by Rummo.
  • 3-4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves thinly sliced or finely chopped
  • 6 to 8 anchovy fillets finely chopped (Italians prefer salted anchovies but you can also use those in oil)
  • 1 tsp Peperoncino flakes or 1- 1/2 a chopped pepperoncino (Italian chilli pepper)
  • 1 tbsp capers drained and chopped. (Italians also prefer salted capers. If you use these rinse them under water before using them)
  • 100 g pitted black or green olives (3.5oz) I used taggiasca olives
  • 400 g Fresh sauce tomatoes (San Marzano or datterini) (140z) peeled, deseeded and chopped.
  • 1 handful fresh parsley leaves chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper.
  • Salt for pasta and to taste
  1. Start boiling water for the spaghetti. Add salt once it starts to boil and bring to the boil again.

  2. Meanwhile prepare the ingredients. Peel and finely chop the garlic. Peel, de-seed and chop the tomatoes. If anchovies and capers are salted rinse them under cold water. Then cut anchovies into small pieces. If they are large, remove the spine. Remove the seeds from the red chili pepper (if you are using it)  and cut into small pieces.

  3. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan large enough to hold the cooked pasta later. Add the garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes (peperoncino).

  4. Cook over a medium heat until garlic is very lightly golden and the anchovies have melted, about 5 minutes. (Adjust heat as necessary to keep it gently sizzling.)

  5. Add capers, a bit of parsley and olives and stir to combine.
  6. Add the peeled and chopped tomatoes, stir and bring to a bare simmer.

  7. Cook pasta to just under al dente (about 1 minute less than the package recommends).
  8. Drain pasta reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
  9. Add drained pasta to the sauce.

  10. Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water  and increase the heat to bring the pasta and sauce to a vigorous simmer.

  11. Cook, stirring and shaking the pan and adding more pasta water as necessary to keep sauce a little liquidy until pasta is perfectly al dente.

  12. Sprinkle with some more parsley.
  13. Season with salt and pepper as required.
  14. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Although traditionally served with spaghetti, alla puttanesca can be served with other long pasta such as fettucine.
The quantity of the individual ingredients can be altered depending on one's taste. Some people prefer less olives, capers or anchovies.

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spaghetti alla puttanesca
Authentic Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

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  • Trackback: Spaghetti alla putanesca – Cook with Vera
  • Avatar
    April 14, 2020 5:25 pm

    Jacqui, living in Kansas City, Missouri it is impossible to find fresh San Marzano tomatoes here, I can find the canned whole ones. Will the flavor be degraded using canned tomatoes?

    • Jacqui
      April 14, 2020 6:49 pm

      Hi Steve, thanks for your comment! It’s okay to use canned San Marzano or you can use other types of very ripe plum tomatoes. Let me know how your puttanesca turns out! Buon appetito!

  • Avatar
    September 3, 2019 2:24 pm

    This was delicious, awesome and absolutely fantastic! I will be making this dish again and again, I never thought I would like capers as much as I do, thanks for introducing these to me and my family! A dish to make over and over for sure. I have saved the recipe and will always be using this from now on. I will try other pasta dishes from your wonderful collection.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      September 4, 2019 3:31 am

      Thank you so much, Ramona! We love that this is a favourite of yours!

  • Avatar
    September 2, 2019 7:13 pm

    I never knew puttanesca had such a ‘salty’ translation! I love hearing about the background of dishes before I make them. I love puttanesca but now I’m thinking that I’ve likely never had a truly authentic one so I’m definitely going to make this!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      September 4, 2019 3:36 am

      We love sharing our knowledge about all of the ingredients and dishes! Even if they are a little ‘salty’ 😉 You will love this recipe I am sure!

  • Avatar
    September 2, 2019 12:05 pm

    Oh yum, I’ve never tried Puttenesca before but I was just wondering what to make for dinner. Seems like this is the perfect time to try it out.

    Katie xoxo

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      September 4, 2019 3:37 am

      Hi Katie, hope you tried it and loved it! It really is an excellent recipe for dinner!

  • Avatar
    Jenni LeBaron
    September 2, 2019 6:01 am

    This Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is exactly what I wish I had in front of me right now. I love the simple mix of olives and tomato, made even more rich with umami-packed anchovies. This is pasta perfection!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      September 4, 2019 3:39 am

      Thank you, Jenni! We love the simplicity of it too!

  • Avatar
    September 2, 2019 4:12 am

    This recipe was fantastic, easy to follow and fresh. I love traditional Italian food and you always have the best recipes!

  • Avatar
    Eden | Sweet Tea and Thyme
    September 1, 2019 10:12 pm

    Such a classic recipe! I remember when I told my husband the translation of the name when I first made it. His jaw dropped, haha!

  • Avatar
    September 1, 2019 8:46 pm

    Simple and delicious recipe loaded with full of flavor. Can’t wait to try this out. YUMMM!

  • Avatar
    September 1, 2019 8:26 pm

    I love the taste of anchovies, too. I do try to use them as often as possible. But when it comes to pasta, nothing can beat them. Really keen to try this recipe (with capers, of course)!

  • Avatar
    September 1, 2019 6:52 pm

    Every time I had this spaghetti it had capers, so when I finally decide to make it at home, I will make sure I have enough capers for the recipe! It is a must!

  • Avatar
    Analida Braeger
    September 1, 2019 3:27 pm

    I am a food history nerd and I always love the back stories with a dish. Thanks for sharing a great recipe!

  • Avatar
    September 1, 2019 12:43 pm

    Loved this, and absolutely always yes to the capers!!! One of my fav meals and love how easy it is to put together

  • Avatar
    September 1, 2019 3:10 am

    I’m definitely on the ‘must caper’ side of this puttanesca recipe. Simple and delicious but loads of flavor.

  • Avatar
    September 1, 2019 1:14 am

    I just made the Spaghetti Puttenesca which was delicious. Living in Canada I usually make the recipe with canned San Marzano tomotes from Italy but made it with fresh garden tomatoes, peeled , cored and chopped. It was absolutely delicious and I think the family preferred it with fresh tomatoes. It was less saucy and so tasty. I also added a little shallot into the sauce as well which seemed to add to it. Thank you another great recipe from your blog.

  • Avatar
    August 31, 2019 7:38 pm

    THIS is my kind of pasta dinner. I love capers in pasta and almost always add them to my sauce. This looks divine! Now I’m craving for dinner 😀

  • Avatar
    Leanne | Crumb Top Baking
    August 31, 2019 2:57 pm

    I love it when there is an interesting history behind the name of a dish! Regardless of the name, this looks delicious. We love spaghetti in our house, and would love to give this authentic version a try!

  • Avatar
    Cheese Curd In Paradise
    August 31, 2019 1:58 pm

    It is so neat to learn the history of this dish! It is one of my favorites because of the olives- I just love that brine in the pasta! I can’t wait to try your version!

  • Avatar
    Cathleen @ A Taste of Madness
    August 31, 2019 5:11 am

    You know I love my spaghetti. This looks like it is right up my alley!!

  • Avatar
    August 30, 2019 5:38 pm

    Nice to know about the history. Wonderful combination of flavours here and the pasta looks super delicious.

  • Avatar
    August 30, 2019 5:06 pm

    I think this dish is gorgeous. It sounds fantastic!

  • Avatar
    August 30, 2019 3:45 am

    Loving the ethnicity tips on this dish. Very enlightening! Looks like a delicious recipe that part is agreed on. haha!

  • Avatar
    Anne Lawton
    August 30, 2019 3:05 am

    I have heard the stories about how puttanesca got its name, and it’s still a tasty sauce!

  • Avatar
    Lesli Schwartz
    August 30, 2019 2:32 am

    Definitely going to try this recipe! I just love authentic Italian dishes, especially when it includes anchovies! YES!

  • Avatar
    August 29, 2019 3:22 am

    What an interesting history and now I know why it’s called that way. Love this pasta and the combination, especially with capers.

  • Avatar
    August 29, 2019 2:06 am

    I love the salty, briny flavor the anchovies and capers give this dish! It really makes this pasta special. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Avatar
    Kelly Anthony
    August 29, 2019 12:52 am

    I’m loving all the strong flavors in this spaghetti alla puttanesca especially the olives, capers and anchovies. Yum!

  • Avatar
    Lori | The Kitchen Whisperer
    August 28, 2019 7:55 pm

    I’m totally on #TeamCapers in my puttanesca! It’s the way I was taught to make it and, to have it without just seems…wrong, I loved this post so much as I love how you educate while tantilizing our tastebuds!

  • Avatar
    Jere Cassidy
    August 28, 2019 6:51 am

    Thanks for including the stories on naming rights. As always your pasta dishes look amazing and yeah to the capers.

  • Avatar
    Veena Azmanov
    August 28, 2019 6:30 am

    I love making such amazing Dinner options for family. They relish every bit of it. Thanks

  • Avatar
    Stine Mari
    August 27, 2019 1:26 pm

    No matter how it got its name it is really funny to think about! And it doesn’t look like garbage at all, all those flavors sound so delicious together!

  • Avatar
    June 4, 2019 9:26 pm

    Questa è una ricetta meravigliosa. Ingredienti semplici, ma allo stesso tempo una meravigliosa complessità di sapori. Un perfetto esempio del vecchio detto che “less is more”. Auguri.

  • Avatar
    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

  • Avatar
    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

  • Avatar
    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

  • Avatar
    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

  • Avatar
    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!

  • Avatar
    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

  • Avatar
    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

  • Avatar
    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

    • Avatar
      September 2, 2019 4:10 am

      Stephanie, I just heard this story and totally know exactly the scene youre talking about ;D great reference.

      As for this recipe, it sounds wonderful. I have never made a puttanesca sauce (and even as I say this I can hear the voice actor describing it from the audio book), but now I doubly want to make it!

  • Avatar
    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

  • Avatar
    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

  • Avatar
    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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