Spaghetti alla Puttanesca: Whore''s Spaghetti

29th Jun 2006


Before the poor whore jokes start to spouting out, before we talk about how quick and easy this dish was, how lustful and robust the flavors were, I'll dispel the obvious and hopefully show how these ladies of the night were actually thrifty chefs without the benefit of access to fresh ingredients.  How the whores of Italy were, actually, quite creative.

Fun fact of the day courtesy of Diane Seed, author of The Top 100 Pasta Sauces :

"To understand how this sauce came to get its name one must consider the 1950's when brothels in Italy were state-owned."

Now, the idea of state sanctioned brothels in the eternal city is quite funny (do they get holidays off? Dental?), but actually, things get quite sad.  While the state's residents might have enjoyed its access to FDA-approved women at any time, they apparently didn't much like them sniffing around for eggplant and racks of lamb at the market with proper ladies out after church: these poor ladies were only allowed to shop for food once a week, as, well, they were quite busy.  By the end of the week the kitchen looked a little tattered and rather empty, so they had to make do with some of the Mediterranean staples that could have lasted the whole week: things packed in salt, oil, etc.  And people have enjoyed the whore's pasta ever since.

This recipe comes straight from Diane Seed's excellent The Top 100 Pasta Sauces , a book we've praised before of simple sauces based mainly on vegetables and a focus on seasonal cooking.  Pasta is enhanced in her book, treated as a respectable ingredient in itself, not ladened with mounds of tomato sauce American-style.  Fortunately, this recipe is robust, hearty, yet not overwhelming.  A little bit goes a long way, so don't worry if it looks like every inch of pasta isn't covered in sauce.  The flavor completely takes over this dish.

Some have theorized that the pasta was used to lure in men in need of a little food and a little something extra, but we'll vouch that it works pretty well in a regular apartment. It's perfect for those sad days when you're out of cash, and trying to control those hunger pangs while still taking the high road.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca


Serves 4

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 14 oz can plum tomatoes, chopped, juices reserved
  • 1 cup of black olives, seeded and chopped
  • 4 tablespoons capers
  • 2 handfuls of parsley, chopped

Adapted from The Top 100 Pasta Sauces by Diane Seed

Fill a large pot with water, salt it, and bring it to a boil.  You'll be able to prep all the vegetables in that time.


Pit the olives with a small knife.  I'm sure there is a good way to do this that I have not been taught or a nice contraption to do it for you.  But at 2 minutes this is the most time-intensive step.  Or, you could simply have bought pitted black olives.  But what's the fun in that.

Now simply chop the the garlic, anchovies, plum tomatoes, and parsley and you're ready to go.

The water should be boiling by now, so throw the pasta in and cook it for 9-10 minutes.  The sauce will be ready by then.

After you throw in the pasta, pour the olive in a saute pan and heat to medium.  Add the garlic and anchovies and cook until the anchovies start to disappear and a wonderful aroma fills the entire room.


Add the tomatoes, olives, and the capers and cook for five minutes.


When the pasta is ready, drain it and dump it into the pan with the sauce.  Toss.  Add the fresh parsley and serve, perhaps with a little extra olive oil poured on the tie all the flavors together.



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