Pasta puttanesca is a homey, tasty, colorful Italian pasta recipe you’ll love.

Puttanesca sauce has the right balance of sweet from the tomato, savory and tangy from the olives, and spicy from the red pepper flakes.

Pasta puttanesca wirk fork

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It’s hard to beat Italian recipes for quick and simple pasta dishes that taste amazing.

This pasta puttanesca is one of those meals that makes you wonder how a few simple ingredients like tomatoes, olives, and capers can make such a tasty sauce.

And all without meat, fish, or dairy, and ready in about the time it takes to boil the pasta. There are no anchovies in the original recipe!

Originally from Naples, pasta puttanesca or aulive e chiapparielle in Napolitan (olives and capers in English) is now popular throughout Italy and worldwide thanks to its simplicity, beautiful colors, and, most importantly, its wonderfully rich and yet balanced taste.

The sauce has it all: the natural sweetness from whole peeled tomatoes, ideally San Marzano, canned at peak ripeness.

The savory and tangy notes from the capers and black Gaeta olives. The fiery heat from fresh chili or red pepper flakes. The velvety and fruity mouthfeel of good quality extra virgin olive oil and the freshness of the parsley.

Can you tell we love this dish? It’s definitely a family-favorite recipe.

Here we’ll show you how to make this restaurant-worthy meal with little effort at home and a few pantry staples.

Pasta Puttanesca with a fork

Ingredients

Ingredients tomato sauce spaghetti

Pasta puttanesca has only a few ingredients. But, of course, it goes without saying that the higher the quality of the ingredients, the more delicious your meal will be.

Spaghetti

We like to use bronze-cut spaghetti. Their rugged and dusty surface makes the puttanesca sauce stick better. You can find them in most supermarkets in the pasta section; they are often imported from Italy.

You can also use regular spaghetti, linguine, or bavette. For gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta.

Tomatoes

Whole canned peeled San Marzano Tomatoes are used in the original Neapolitan recipe.

If you can’t find those, get some generic whole canned peeled tomatoes, preferably imported from Italy.

Olives

The original recipe calls for Gaeta olives. Gaeta is a small town between Rome and Naples, with a mild climate that makes excellent black (actually dark purple) olives that are world famous.

You probably won’t be able to find Gaeta olives unless you go to a fancy Italian deli.

Suitable substitutes are kalamata olives or regular black olives. Our advice is to get olives that are preserved in oil. Drain the oil before using them.

Capers

You can use non-pareille capers. They come preserved in brine or salt. In either case, rinse them under cold running water before adding them to the sauce.

Garlic

It’s best to use fresh garlic for this recipe. For a mild garlic flavor, you should crush the garlic and let it simmer in the sauce, then discard it before tossing it in the pasta.

For a more robust garlic flavor, mince or grate the garlic. We like it better with grated garlic.

Parsley

Pasta puttanesca is made and served with a generous sprinkle of finely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley, which you can find in most supermarkets.

If you don’t have fresh parsley, you can add dried oregano or fresh basil leaves.

Red pepper flakes

Add more or less red pepper flakes based on your spice tolerance. You can substitute finely chopped fresh chili or cayenne pepper for red pepper flakes.

Olive oil

As for most of our recipes, we recommend using good quality extra virgin olive oil. It tastes better with a mildly fruity and nutty flavor; it’s heart-healthy and packed with antioxidants.

Salt and pepper

The sauce probably won’t need any salt because the olives and capers are already salted. If you like, you can add a twist of black pepper.

Note: there are no anchovy fillets in the original Neapolitan spaghetti alla puttanesca.

The recipe from Lazio, an Italian region, however, does include anchovies. If you want to add anchovies, do so at the beginning, with the olives and capers. You’ll only need 3 to 4 anchovy fillets as they are super salty.

Instructions

In a large skillet, warm up the olive oil on medium heat. Add pitted olives cut in half lengthwise, rinsed capers, red pepper flakes, and grated garlic.

olives and capers in a skillet

Fry gently for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t burn.

fry olives and capers

Add in the whole canned peeled tomatoes, stir, crush the tomatoes with a fork, and simmer the puttanesca sauce on medium-low heat for 15 minutes.

add canned tomatoes

Taste and adjust for salt and black pepper if necessary.

Most probably your pasta puttanesca sauce won’t need much salt because the olives and capers are salty enough.

mix the sauce

While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, and toss in the pasta.

Cook the pasta very al dente; that is 3 minutes less than instructed on the package.

Reserve 2 cups of pasta cooking water, drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.

Add spaghetti to skillet

Add 1 cup of reserve pasta water and a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley, and finish cooking the pasta on medium-high heat, tossing it for about 2 minutes or until your pasta puttanesca is creamy and al dente.

Add more reserved pasta water if necessary.

Tip: undercooking the pasta and then cooking it in the sauce makes the sauce creamier because the pasta releases its starch in the sauce as it finishes cooking.

Also, the reserve pasta water contains starch, so we add it to the sauce.

add parsley

Serve the pasta with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Pasta Puttanesca with fork

Serving suggestions

Serve with a side salad:

Serve with bread to soak up the sauce leftover on the plate:

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Storage

Refrigerator: store leftover pasta puttanesca in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. Please remember to store some pasta water too.

Reheat in the microwave for 2 minutes with a tablespoon or two of reserve pasta water sprinkled on top. Alternatively, reheat on a pan with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of reserved pasta water.

Freezer: this recipe is not suitable for freezing.

Tips

How to cook pasta?

To cook pasta, the rule is 1 liter of water for 100 grams of pasta and 7 grams of salt per 100 grams of pasta. 

Our approximation to USA measurements is 8 cups of water (2 quarts) per 8 ounces of pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt.

For example, you’ll need about 1 gallon (16 cups or 4 liters) of water and 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of salt to cook 1 pound (450 grams) of pasta.

Questions

Why is it called pasta puttanesca?

No one knows for sure why it’s called pasta puttanesca. However, there are several speculations. Our favorite is this:

“Puttanata” in Italian slang means easy, simple. The story goes like this.

One night a group of friends visited the restaurant owner, chef, and friend Sandro Petti asking him to make them dinner.

It was late after an evening shift, and the chef initially refused the friend’s request because he ran out of fresh ingredients.

The friends insisted, asking him: “Please, Sandro, we have nowhere to go. Make us something easy” – in Italian – “facci una puttanata.”

Sandro put together canned tomatoes, olives, and capers and called the dish “pasta puttanesca.” The rest is history.

What ingredients are in pasta puttanesca?

The original recipe of pasta puttanesca has olive oil, garlic, San Marzano tomatoes, Gaeta olives, chili peppers, and flat-leaf parsley.

A variation from the Lazio region in Italy includes anchovy fillets.

What kind of pasta with puttanesca?

Spaghetti.

What does pasta puttanesca taste like?

Pasta puttanesca is a savory, tangy, spicy, garlicky, mildly sweet, and acidic sauce thanks to the combination of San Marzano tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, and chili.

Is puttanesca Italian or Spanish?

Puttanesca is an Italian recipe originally from Naples. There’s also a popular variation in the Lazio region in Italy.

If I prepare a pasta sauce that is salty, such as puttanesca, should I refrain from adding salt to the pasta water?

You should always salt the pasta water if you like with less salt. Pasta cooked in unsalted water is bland, even if your sauce is salty.

My advice is to refrain from adding salt to sauces like puttanesca when you use salty ingredients like olives, capers, anchovies, and soy sauce.

More easy pasta recipes

If you love quick and easy pasta recipes, get fresh inspiration from these fuss-free 20-minute meals:

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Find your next Italian meal among these reader favorites; they’re all made with simple and few ingredients:

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Pasta Puttanesca in a white bowl

Pasta Puttanesca

By: Nico Pallotta
5 from 6 votes
Pasta puttanesca is a homeytastycolorful Italian pasta recipe you'll love.
Puttanesca sauce has the right balance of sweet from the tomato, savory and tangy from the olives, and spicy from the red pepper flakes.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 5 people
Course: Main Course, pasta
Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti (+ 1 gallon of water and 2 tbsp of salt to cook it)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¾ cup black olives pitted (Gaeta, Kalamata, or other)
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes or more to taste
  • 28 ounces (1 large can) whole peeled tomatoes best if San Marzano
  • 1 handful flat-leaf parsley
  • salt + black pepper taste the sauce and add if necessary

Instructions 

MAKE THE SAUCE

  • In a large skillet, warm up the olive oil on medium heat. Add pitted olives cut in half lengthwise, rinsed capersred pepper flakes, and grated garlic.
    olives and capers in a skillet
  • Fry gently for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic doesn't burn.
    fry olives and capers
  • Add in the whole canned peeled tomatoes, stir, crush the tomatoes with a fork, and simmer the puttanesca sauce on medium-low heat for 15 minutes.
    add canned tomatoes
  • Taste and adjust for salt and black pepper if necessary. While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta.
    mix the sauce

COOK THE PASTA

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, and toss in the pasta.
    Cook the pasta very al dente; that is 3 minutes less than instructed on the package.
    Reserve 2 cups of pasta cooking water, drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.
    Add spaghetti to skillet
  • Add 1 cup of reserve pasta water and a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley, and finish cooking the pasta on medium-high heat, tossing it for about 2 minutes or until creamy and al dente.
    add parsley
  • Serve the pasta with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.
    Pasta Puttanesca with fork

Video

Easy Pasta Puttanesca in 25 minutes

Notes

Nutrition information is an estimate for one serving of pasta puttanesca out of five servings.
TIPS
You’ll need about 1 gallon (16 cups or 4 liters) of water and 2 tablespoons (30 grams) of salt to cook 1 pound (450 grams) of pasta.
Undercooking the pasta and then finishing it in the pan makes the sauce creamier because the pasta releases its starch in the sauce as it finishes cooking.
The reserved pasta water contains starch, so we add it to the sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 470kcal, Carbohydrates: 76g, Protein: 13g, Fat: 13g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 9g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Potassium: 522mg, Dietary Fiber: 5g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 367IU, Vitamin B6: 0.3mg, Vitamin C: 16mg, Vitamin E: 3mg, Vitamin K: 24µg, Calcium: 84mg, Folate: 32µg, Iron: 3mg, Manganese: 1mg, Magnesium: 70mg, Zinc: 2mg
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Nico and Louise in the kitchen

Hi! We are Nico & Louise

Welcome to The Plant-Based School, a food blog with easy, tasty, and wholesome recipes.

Our aim is to help you and your family eat more veggies through delicious recipes with simple ingredients.

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2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I loved this recipe. Easy, delicious, quick …. what else can I ask? Thank you. I really enjoy your presentation on Youtube shorts!

    1. Hi Lynda, I’m so happy you found us on Youtube and even happier that you liked the recipe! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment here, it means a lot to us! Have a great Monday. Cheers, Nico