Rumored to have been named in the mid-twentieth century for Neapolitan ladies of the night, this pungent and flavorful pasta takes less than 30 minutes to put together, making it a good choice for a weeknight meal. It's versatile, too: For a lighter and more herbaceous pasta, swap the black olives for green and add some chopped basil.


  • 5 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 5 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tablespoon chopped black olives
  • 2 tablespoon capers, chopped
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  •  Kosher salt
  • 6 ounce spaghetti or other pasta of your choice
  • 2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat for the pasta. This can take up to 20 minutes, depending on your stove. Use this time to gather the rest of your ingredients.
  2. Starting with a cold skillet, gently heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil along with the garlic over medium heat, taking care to soften the garlic but avoid browning it. Starting things in a cold pan like this allows you to have a bit more control over the doneness of the garlic while infusing maximum flavor into the oil. The idea here is to have soft garlic and fragrant oil. This should take only 1 to 2 minutes. This is when you really start to develop the punchy flavors that puttanesca is known for.
  3. Add the anchovy fillets to the garlic oil and, using the back of a spoon to gently mash the fillets against the bottom of your pan, cook for 1 minute. No need to be aggressive here as the anchovies will break down on their own as well.
  4. Add the olives and capers and cook for 1 minute. Again, the goal here is to extract the flavors into the oil and fill your kitchen with the wonderful perfume of the sauce.
  5. Add the tomatoes, chili flakes, and oregano. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring, making sure the tomatoes don't stick to the bottom of the pan while the sauce thickens.
  6. Add enough salt to the boiling water so that it reminds you of a less salty sea. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, stirring the pasta every 2 minutes or so to ensure that it doesn't stick together. Taste a noodle a minute or so before the end of the suggested cooking time to ensure that your pasta comes out al dente.
  7. Just before it's time to remove the pasta from the boiling water, add 1/3 cup (80 ml) of the pasta water to the pan. Adding pasta water is a trick that not only helps to season the finished product but also utilizes the starch shed by the pasta to make the pasta sauce creamier in texture.
  8. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the drained cooked pasta to the sauce. Cook, constantly stirring and tossing, until the sauce clings to the noodles and there is about 1/4 cup (60 ml) left at the bottom of the pan, about 2 minutes.
  9. Stir in the parsley, divide the pasta between two bowls, and serve.

Excerpted from The Magic of Tinned Fish by Chris McDade (Artisan Books). Copyright 2021.

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