Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sugo alla Puttanesca (Whore's Spaghetti)

There are a lot of stories floating around about the origins of this Sauce.  As legends have it, the prostitutes of Italy made a sauce that would lure the men in off the streets and into the "case chiuse"  (or closed houses, Brothels back in the 50's were state owned in Italy, and the shutters were always closed as an ordinance to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of the neighbors.)  This is a fun legend, but untrue.   It is also legend that the sauce was made from ingredients that reflected more of the pantry than what was found in the garden.  The "civil servants" that worked in these brothels were only allowed one day a week to do their shopping, where "una buona donna" (a good woman) usually did her shopping daily in order to find the freshest of ingredients.  It is more than likely possible that this is more true, but yet it is still not the real story.

This "sugo" or sauce was invented in the 1950's by Sandro Petti, a co owner of a very popular restaurant called Rancho Fellone located in Ischia.  When confronted by a hungry group of guys after the restaurant had closed he explained that the food had run out for the day, and there was nothing left.  The men responded "Facci una puttanata qualsiasi" or “make any kind of trash,” they insisted.  (Puttana, or literally whore was used as street slang for trash or garbage.)  When Petti went back into the kitchen he found 2 olives, capers, and 4 tomatoes, which is the basic ingredients for this sauce.  After some refinement, Petti later served this "sugo" on his menu, calling it "Spaghetti alla Puttanesca."

I love this sauce.   When I think of a dish that epitomizes the soul of Italian cuisine, this is it.  I would call this an important dish.  It's uncomplicated, it's flavors are complex yet simple at the same time, it has elements of the sea, and of the soil, and captures all of the elements of a cuisine, and country that I consider to be one of the most unique and inspired in the world.  Now this is my version of the sauce, and I don't know what Petti's final recipe was, but I imagine it was something like this.

4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 cloves Crushed Garlic
1/2 medium sized Spanish or Sweet Yellow Onion
5 anchovies (I prefer the salt cured ones, simply soak them in water for about 15 minutes to remove the excessive amounts of salt) you can use canned, but not my first choice
1 diced long hot Italian Chili Pepper (Anaheim Peppers are a good substitute)
1 tbsp capers
1/4 cup pitted dried black olives (Our mega marts in athens both carry these in the deli section)
6 large plum tomatoes or 8 tomatoes from one can of San Marzano tomaotoes Drained and Roughly chopped (my preference to the fresh actually, nothing tastes more Italian that a good San Marzano tomato, unless you have a really good Roma Tomato plant in your garden that you can pick fresh.
salt & Pepper to taste
6 leaves jullianned Basil
1/2 tsp oregano

In a large skillet on medium heat add your olive oil, onions, garlic, anchovies, chili pepper and oregano.  Let these ingredients sweat over the heat for about 1 minute, but do not caramelize.  Add the capers, olives, and tomatoes, and reduce heat to simmer. Don't add your salt.  There is already salt in the anchovies, capers, and olives.  Let the sauce simmer for 10 to 20 minutes allowing the liquid to reduce.  You can add a small splash of white wine to this if you like.  Taste the sauce and if it needs salt, add it.  Toss with spaghetti, and add your jullienned basil to finish.  Since this dish has fish in it, most people typically would not add cheese to this.  Italians will actually add canned tuna to this sauce about 2 minutes before completion to add a protein, but this is not the authentic original recipe.  I would suggest a nice Pinot Grigio with this, or if you like red, go no heavier than a Pinot Noir or a Sangiovese.


  1. I am so making this next week. Sounds delicious. And putting it on multigrain fettucinni, of course. :)

  2. Great! I will have to try that! I just added you to my 'favorite blogs' hope more people will come and check your blog!