Pasta puttanesca is a quick and easy dinner recipe bursting with the deliciously salty flavors of olives, capers, and anchovies cooked in a simple tomato sauce.

Complete the meal with a slice of no yeast bread and a crispy kale salad. And if you love tomato pasta sauces, also try our easy homemade spaghetti sauce.

Pasta Puttanesca on a white dinner plate.

Pasta puttanesca

Pasta puttanesca is a classic Italian recipe made from kitchen-staple ingredients like olives, capers, anchovies, tomatoes, and pasta.

It has a big, robust flavor that's easy to fall in love with.

This is not a heavy-handed portion of a tomato-based sauce weighing down a few noodles, like we here in North American love our spaghetti.

Pasta puttanesca is a much smaller amount of an incredibly flavorful sauce that lightly wraps itself around each noodle so even if you can't see the sauce, you can taste it. It's heavenly.

Pasta puttanesca meaning

There are a few stories floating around about how pasta puttanesca got its name, all of them a bit racy.

Puttana is a derogatory word for ladies of the night, and one story says that this recipe is so quick and easy to make that the ladies were able to whip it up between clients.

Another version tells the story that a group of the ladies visited a restaurant late at night and, with little left in his kitchen, the chef made this with the few ingredients he had left.

There is even a story about how the ladies would place pots of puttanesca sauce in their windows to lure in men.

4 pictures showing how to make pasta puttanesca.

How to make this pasta puttanesca

Pasta puttanesca is a super simple recipe that can be whipped up in no time using kitchen staple ingredients.

  1. Simmer garlic and anchovies in olive oil for a few minutes until the anchovies start to melt and your house smells amazing.
  2. Add some chopped olives, capers, canned tomatoes, and red pepper flakes to the pan and let that magic sauce simmer.
  3. Now add cooked pasta and a little parsley to the pan and mix everything together. A little of the water that you used to cook the pasta will help loosen the sauce if it's too thick.

And that's it! With little more effort than it takes to open a jar, you've just made yourself an incredible pasta dinner!

Full recipe in the recipe card below.

Pasta Puttanesca in a pan.

What is the best pasta for puttanesca?

While technically you can use any pasta shape for puttanesca, we like long shapes like spaghetti, spaghettini, or linguini the best with this recipe.

How long does pasta puttanesca last?

Pasta puttanesca will last for 2-3 days in your fridge.

Can I freeze this recipe?

Yes, you can! Just keep in mind that the pasta can become mushy if you're not careful reheating it. Let the frozen pasta thaw completely then gently warm it.

If you like to meal-prep, the sauce freezes beautifully!

What to serve with pasta puttanesca

Pasta puttanesca can easily be a one-dish dinner recipe. But we often like to serve it with some garlic bread or no yeast bread with herbs and cheese and a big salad. Here are a few of our favorites:

Pasta Puttanesca on a white dinner plate with a fork.
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Pasta Puttanesca on a white dinner plate with a fork.

Pasta Puttanesca

  • Author: Kristen Stevens
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: Pasta
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Description

Pasta puttanesca is a quick and easy dinner recipe bursting with the deliciously salty flavors of olives, capers, and anchovies cooked in a simple tomato sauce.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces dried spaghetti
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 6 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • ½ cup pitted black olives, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
  • Optional: grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the spaghetti and cook according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.
  2. While the water is heating, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and anchovies and cook until both are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the olives, capers, diced tomatoes, and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and simmer gently until the pasta is cooked. 
  3. Add the cooked pasta and parsley to the pan and toss with the sauce. Add the pasta water, a few tablespoons at a time, to loosen the sauce, if needed. 
  4. If using, serve with some parmesan cheese over the top. 

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Pasta Puttanesca in a pan with the recipe title on top of the picture.