How to make a puttanesca sauce

SPAGHETTI ALLA PUTTANESCA, a super sexy healthy delicious pasta dish that encompasses the beautiful flavours of Southern Italy and the Mediterranean. A dish that can be knocked up between house chores if time poor and enjoyed by all-around a table with beautiful glass or two of red wine. No major culinary skills needed here, but only the love for wanting to cook a fantastic pasta dish.

What is Puttanesca?

Puttanesca is an Italian pasta sauce, usually served with long silky spaghetti invented in Naples, southern Italy. Its ingredients include tomatoes, olive oil, olives, capers, and garlic. A simple easy recipe that can be cooked within 10-15 minutes.

What does Puttanesca mean?

There are many stories about the origin of this dish,. However, I heard my favourite tale while watching BBC TV show, Rick Steins Seafood Odyssey. “Puttana’ is the Italian word for ‘Ladies of the night” without being crass and people say that this was a pasta dish that they would rustle up between ‘clients’ as it was so quick, easy and obviously sexy. However, there are many other stories out there.

Paola, the Tiny Italian, holding a coral orange ceramic bowl of spaghetti alla puttanesca with fresh cherry tomatoes, black olives and capers. She is standing in front of a blue background with more dishes of spaghetti Alla puttanesca

Ingredients for Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

  • Dry spaghetti is the pasta of choice. Fresh pasta doesn’t work with this recipe. Penne is also an alternative pasta shape if you fancy a shorter pasta.
  • Garlic
  • Fresh red chilli. However, it can be substituted with the dry kind.
  • Anchovies. If you want to a vegetarian/vegan version, then you may leave these out.
  • Cherry tomatoes. I prefer using fresh cherry tomatoes, including the tomato vine to enhance the flavour of the sauce. However, you can substitute fresh with a tin of whole peeled tomatoes.
  • Black olives. Pitted olives are best.
  • Capers
  • Fresh parsley.

If you would like to enjoy a glass of wine with this sexy pasta dish, then I would suggest a southern Italian red wine. Negroamoro, Primitivo or Nero d’avola

A close up of spaghetti alla puttanesca in a coral cermaic bowl with fresh cherry tomatoes, black olives and capers.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca (Serves 2)

  • 2/3 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped

  • 1/2 fresh red chilli, finely chopped

  • 4 anchovies, chopped

  • 250g cherry tomatoes, on the vine, halved

  • 70g pitted black olives, halved

  • 1 tbsp capers

  • 250g spaghetti

  • Fresh parsley, roughly chopped

  • Chilli oil (optional)


  • First, get a large saucepan of water on the boil.
  • In the meantime, pour your olive oil into a large frying pan and add your garlic. Fry on a very low heat. After a minute, add the fresh chilli and anchovies. Continue to fry for 3/4 minutes until the anchovies melt into the olive oil.
  • Next add the halved cherry tomatoes, olives and capers. if you have a tomato vine, add that too. This will intensify the flavour. Please remember to remove it at the end. Give all the ingredients a good stir. Place a lid and cook for 10/15 minutes on a low heat.
  • In the meantime, season your pasta water with plenty of salt and cook your spaghetti as instructed on the packet. Ensure the pasta is cooked until its al dente.
  • Add the spaghetti to your sauce and give it a good toss. Add a couple of tablespoons of pasta water. Add the chopped parsley and give it a final toss.
  • Serve immediately. If you wish, add a drizzle of chilli oil.

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