Impromptu Pasta

Necessity begat this delizioso, down-home dinner.

Photograph by Benjamin Williamson

A Naples chef invented spaghetti alla puttanesca in the 1950s, so the story goes, to satisfy a ravenous late-night crowd, heaping together what few ingredients he had on hand: garlic, capers, olives, anchovies. Improbably, it tasted great. Mainers have a knack for make-do culinary resourcefulness too — see boiled dinners and bean suppers. Puttanesca isn’t from here, but it sure fits in.

Serves 4
1 pound uncooked spaghetti
28 ounces canned whole San Marzano tomatoes
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 head garlic, cloves roughly chopped
6 anchovy filets, minced
2 tablespoons capers
¼ teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1 cup mixed olives, pitted and crushed
1 cup red wine
10 sprigs parsley, roughly chopped
4 sprigs oregano, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon lemon zest
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Fill a large pot with water and add about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt per gallon of water. Bring to a boil. Pour tomatoes into a bowl. With your hands, break tomatoes into small pieces. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil to a large sauté pan and place over medium heat. Add garlic and a pinch of salt. Sauté until garlic softens, 4 to 5 minutes. Add anchovies and cook for 2 minutes. Add capers, red-pepper flakes, and olives and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring to prevent sticking. Deglaze the pan with red wine. Turn up the heat to let the alcohol burn off, about 3 minutes. After wine has reduced by half, add tomatoes and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for 20 minutes, adding parsley, oregano, and lemon zest once sauce has reduced somewhat. Salt and pepper to taste. When the water has come to a boil, add pasta. Wait 30 seconds, then stir. Wait another 30 seconds and stir again (this should suffice to keep pasta from clumping). When pasta is al dente, use tongs to move it to the sauté pan, twirling into the sauce. Continue cooking for a minute or two in the sauce. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil.