pasta puttanesca

Last Valentine’s Day, Alex and I had dinner at Prune. We had the most decadent meal, but I couldn’t help but go home with the nagging feeling that I had ordered from the wrong side of the menu. You see, chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s menus are an editorial delight, and Valentine’s Day was one for the ages.

some things you'll needchop chop
thin spaghettiquick sauteadd the tomatoesadd green stuff

The Lovers’ Menu from which we ordered had all sorts of rich and spectacular foods, including homemade chocolate kisses (with tissue paper messages) dolloped out by a friend of mine who was working there as a pastry chef at the time. But the other side, the Cynics’ menu–with its Broken Vinaigrette, Whore’s (Puttanesca) Pasta, Cold Shoulder of Pork and Coffee and Cigarettes, oh and at half the price–well, it was evident that the bitter folks were having more fun. Really, it’s not the first time. Because my Valentine and I have a sense of humor (and also due to my inherent dislike of Special Romantical Menus in general) I couldn’t resist my own recreation of a Not Really Cynic’s Menu Thursday night: Pasta Puttanesca and a Bitter Salad with Broken Artichoke Hearts.

toss with the pasta + reserved water

There’s something alluring a tangly nest of spaghetti, whether or not one uses it as a path to each others face. Spaghetti with a spiced and briny sauce and back story, however, trumps Disney every time. As the story–or one of the stories–goes, prostitutes used to make a heated, aromatic puttanesca dish to lure customers back in the day–it was quick, easy and inexpensive and yes, for the sake of this story I am only talking about the sauce. Another version of the story says that it was not the favorite of prostitutes, but women who wanted to keep their meal prep short so their evenings could move onto other things. Yes, well. So.

pasta puttanesca

Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue that the dish isn’t perfectly suited for a homemade meal for two–it’s not exceedingly heavy or unhealthy, it can be made largely from ingredients already in the pantry and it doesn’t take very long to put together–in fact, the sauce can be cooked in the time it takes the pasta to boil. And since I have already waxed well beyond an acceptable word count about my love of artichokes, I suppose it goes without saying that I can’t imagine a so-called special meal not involving at least one format of them.

And in less than 45 minutes, we had dinner. We drank wine some friends had been kind enough to leave at our place, as if they knew we’d forget to pick some up and gawked at Lost. What more could we want?

bitter greens, broken artichoke hearts

One year ago: Mom’s Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies, Bread Making 101 Tutorial and Dill Bread Recipe

[Note: This recipe got some fresh photos in 2019.]

Pasta Puttanesca
Adapted from Ellie Krieger

8 ounces regular whole-wheat thin spaghetti, vermicelli or angel hair
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup pitted chopped Spanish or Greek olives
2 tablespoons capers
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
3/4 cup chopped fresh arugula
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add pasta and cook according to the directions on the package.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the parsley, olives, capers, anchovy paste, oregano and crushed red pepper to the skillet, and saute for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in the arugula and simmer for 1 minute more, until the greens wilt slightly.

When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the skillet, tossing it with the sauce to combine. Top with grated cheese.

Bitter Salad with Broken Artichoke Hearts

Artichoke prep:
3 to 4 artichokes
Glug of white wine
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 lemons

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sherry or champagne vinegar
Few drops of honey
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of truffle salt, or whichever salt you prefer

1 tiny head of radicchio
2 endives

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Carve out the artichoke hearts (the drama!): Halve one lemon. Remove all leaves from the artichokes, including the dark outer ones, the lighter yellow interior leave and the thorny purple/pink ones near the heart. Rub all exposed areas with a lemon half. Trim the stalk, cutting down the length of it to about one inch and shaving off any dark green nubs or imperfections–rub lemon on this too. Trim the dark green stumps the leaves have left behind, again, coat this with lemon. Using a paring knife or grapefruit spoon, remove the fuzzy choke completely, then squeeze some lemon juice over the heart. Save the mostly used-up lemon halves. [Becks & Posh have an excellent step-by-step tutorial on this process, with pictures, for those who want further instruction.]

Bring a small/medium saucepan 2/3 to boil with enough water to cover the artichokes, the glug of white wine, smashed garlic gloves, a couple pinches of salt and the not-discarded lemon halves you’d used in the first step. Once it is boiling, add the prepared artichoke hearts. Boil them for about 20 to 25 minutes, until they are tender. (The tip of a sharp knife should easily go through them.)

Drain the artichoke hearts and toss them with juice of the second lemon while they cool. Set them aside, briefly. Meanwhile, make your dressing in the bottom of your salad bowl, whisking all vinaigrette ingredients. Thinly slice your radicchio and endives and toss them with the vinaigrette. Lightly smash the artichoke hearts that have been set aside, and toss these in as well. Season with freshly ground black pepper to taste.

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81 comments on pasta puttanesca

  1. Three cheers for staying in on Valentine’s day! We did too, although the lasagna we made wasn’t quite right. This pasta sauce sounds lovely and easy – will keep it in mind for weekday dinners.

    I’ve gone through 6 jars of artichokes in the last two weeks. Why? An obsession with a newly invented artichoke puree sauce pizza that is too ugly to photograph and hence cannot be posted on my blog. At least, not until I figure out a way to pretty-up its color so that it doesn’t look like… oh, er, well, if you close your eyes it tastes amazing

  2. Now this is something I can make for my dieting husband. I think his high cholesterol is going to kill me and not him. :) This looks delish! I absolutely cannot get enough of your site.

    Thanks for stopping by mine. :)

  3. Obsessing about that first photo. I’ve been trying to get decent pictures of spaghetti. That one’s just about perfect. Do you guys ever use studio lights or is everything available light? The picture of the noodles is also tickling me something fantastic.

  4. Amy

    Love the idea of a “bitter salad” with “broken hearts”…very clever (and looks delicious)! I’ve made that recipe of Ellie’s before, and it’s one of our favorites; you’re right, it makes a great weeknight dinner.

  5. This is adorable. I also swooned over the genius of Prune’s two Valentine menus last year. Even funnier — this year they offered deviled crabs as one of the appetizers.

    We too ate in this year — nothing so cunning, just a menu of favorites: spicy lamb chops, fingerling potato cakes, broccoli gratin and homemade apple pie. Ummm, and chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat. Yah, I get spoiled too — ain’t it nice? But your menu, now — I’m thinking that the floozy’s pasta and the bitter, broken-down salad must have completely lost their cynicism in a bath of unctuous, endorphin-releasing chocolate pudding…

  6. We had a simple meal in contrast to last year’s V-Day spend-a-thon with a fancy reservation and chocolates and roses galore. Being kind of sick this year and still getting over a bad back from my car accident, we just popped in a movie, made a salad and ate a huge slab of brie with crackers. Those are the perfect celebrations.

    I haven’t had puttanesca in ages, thanks for reminding me of it!

  7. We stayed in this year too, though that is partially to blame by my working at the hospital until 8. Coincidentally, we had spaghetti as well – light enough that when you’re starting to eat at 9, you aren’t still feeling full at 11!

    Going out is overrated. Sparkly necklaces, however, are not – do we get a peek?


    We stayed in as well — made Shrimp with Sundried tomato (Mark Bittman’s recipe from few weeks back in NYT) only with Chicken instead of shrimp since I didn’t have time to shop/clean shrimp. Came out wonderful. Would have gone great with spaghetti but opted for garlic bread instead.

    Puttanesca is my go-to meal when I am tired and need that salty-goodness.

    Lovely pics.

  9. Pam

    A nice dinner at home with a great bottle of wine is so wonderful. I like to get out the good china. Our Valentine Day’s dinner was risotto and seared scallops. This recipe for Puttanesca sounds wonderful. Since I have to avoid gluten I wonder if this would work on rice or rice noodles? Ihope so! pam

  10. Katie

    I may be the millionth person to say this, but have you seen your write-up in Real Simple? YOU, my darling, are one of the BEST blogs out there, so they say. (And obviously I agree.)

  11. Karen

    Am I a total heretic to want to make the puttanesca without anchovy paste? Love, love, love the artichoke salad pics and recipes. My daughter, a vegetarian, is planning to make the whole menu for dinner tonight.

  12. I Can’t Stand It I Know You Planned It
    I’m Gonna Set It Straight, This Watergate
    I Can’t Stand Rocking When I’m In Here
    Because Your Crystal Ball Ain’t So Crystal Clear
    So While You Sit Back and Wonder Why
    I Got This Fucking Thorn In My Side
    Oh My, It’s A Mirage
    I’m Tellin’ Y’all It’s Sabotage

  13. kara

    i just saw you mentioned in real simple magazine. i’ve been reading for a while, but i still thought that was cool to see you in there!

  14. Your v-day at home sounds like it was wonderful! And how’s this for weird — pasta puttanesca is my fave pasta dish ever, and it’s first in my blog que right now! guess I’ll wait a while to post about it… :)

  15. Mellie

    Couldn’t resist the photos on this one. I whipped up the pasta puttanesca tonight and paired it with a nice piece of broiled lemon-parmesan tilapia. Finally home with a great meal and TiVo in record time. Thank you for the gift to foodies that is your blog.

  16. There is a puttanesca at my favourite Italian restaurant that I adore, and could never seem to imitate at home… but now I’m looking at the capers and anchovy paste you have in the ingredients, and they may be the missing link! Thanks!!

  17. Adding my voice to the chorus of stayer-inners… it was our first at-home Valentines’ and I gotta say: why don’t I make fancy candlelit dinners more? This was just simply great fun. I’m gonna pat myself on the back for my menu now… heehee. I am working from home for the time being so that was lucky. :)

    I made a French onion soup amuse bouche, garlic shrimp with crusty baguette rounds appetizer, flank stank, sweet potato fries and moules a la mariniere for the main course and chocolate cheesecake (which didn’t even crack!) for dessert.

    Considering my first cheesecake was flooded by the waterbath, I was really happy. Soggy cheesecake sucks.

  18. i agree about stayin in on that dreaded <3 <3 <3 day. it is the official worst possible day for getting good service in a restaurant. you get rushed, wait half an hour for bread, etc.

    i am jealous you get to eat at prune. and that you got to eat such beautiful pasta! cheers.

  19. A beautiful little Italian artichoke that we like to bring to the table is called ‘Violetto’. It cooks up violet-purple heart and all. The color and its elongated buds are stylish and a conversation stopper. Oh, yeah, it’s tasty too!

  20. Mike

    Hi Deb. This comment has nothing to do with puttanesca or artichokes, but I just ran into this post at EatingAsia ( and for some reason I immediately thought of you.

    It does not contain a recipe, and neither Foodnetwork nor Epicurious have recipes under the name “sans rival”. However, a quick google for “recipe sans rival” comes up with a few options.

    It’s a tad fussy because of the multiple layers of merangue, but I know how you LOOOVE making fussy recipes in your NYC kitchen! ;o)

    Happy eating!

  21. Your photos made my mouth water at 8am yesterday morning. After a quick grocery store trip last night, I’m making the Pasta Puttanesca tonight!

    Also: I saw your site mentioned in a magazine this weekend, but I can’t remember which one! Maybe Real Simple? At any rate: go you!

  22. So, the question is… did you indeed save time for “other things”? :)

    Happy v-day- we always stay in on amateur night too.

    Oh, and now that I know it was you who had the kitchen renovation, I’m checking out your archives to see how you dealt with it all!

  23. Hi Deb, just wanted to say that I doubled this pasta and served it for 5 of us last night when it had somehow gotten to 5p.m., we had 3 unexpected guests, and we hadn’t even shopped for dinner. We were able to find all the ingredients (an amazing feat considering the only grocer within walking distance is about the size of a large 7-11) and it was delicious!! Thanks for always having fantastic food that spans the “effort-o-meter” from huge and elaborate to, well, this.

    Cheers from Scotland,

  24. I make puttanesca sauce for my husband ALL THE TIME! He tells me he likes it without anchovies (he’s got a problem with those tasty fish) and to never put them in. “Of course, honey, what ever you say.” Boy, he doesn’t know how many anchovies he’s had in the past 5 years!

  25. louise

    Don’t know if you’ll ever run across this post, but if so, could you tell me about the bowl you show the pasta served in? I’ve been looking for a similar one. I read your post about your favorite kitchen items (very useful!), but I don’t remember a nod to a bowl like that one. Thanks!

  26. Anna

    Hi Deb, big fan. been cooking your food for 2years now. i second the motion of Mike’s comment (number 45, feb 20, 2008). please teach us in the marvelous way that you do on how to make “Sans Rival” cake :)
    and like everything else in your blog, this puttanesca is great.
    cant wait for your book!

  27. Alexandra

    Hi! What kind of olives is better in this dish? Boring black ones from the can or those nice ones from the deli section? Kalamata? Thank you so much!

  28. Andrea

    This is the 1st time I’ve posted, but I’ve been reading and cooking featured recipes for a long time. This puttanesca was a real hit tonight. The proportions were so wonderful that it is now going into heavy rotation for an easy, delicious, quick go-to meal. Thanks. I’m looking forward to the cookbook!

  29. Ashley

    I added a little white wine and cream to the puttanesca and it was absolutely lovely–the perfect quick meal. Great basic recipe!

  30. deb

    erin — For the pasta, well, we here estimate 2 ounces per person (Italian primi piatti style) but I tend to get feedback from people who feel that’s much too little; in the U.S. 4 ounce (or more) size pasta servings are more common.

  31. Zara

    Made this last night but (sob) the artichokes were way too expensive. So I just had a endive and radicchio salad which was actually very nice. I also used my potato masher to smoosh up the sauce a bit while it was simmering to crush up the capers and tomatoes. PS: Used 10 oz of pasta and it served me and my hubby for dinner, and each took leftovers for lunch as well.

  32. Rob

    This comment applies only to the puttanesca, I’ve never tried the artichoke salad. But it is REALLY delicious and simple. I generally use kalamata olives and whatever kind of pasta I have on hand – a great weeknight meal!

  33. I came across this while browsing, and I feel an intense longing to make this pasta despite the spousal unit’s hatred of olives, capers and anchovies. I’m thinking I could chop them fine enough that he couldn’t really find them in the sauce, with the tangle of freshly-wilted arugula getting in the way. I’ve been known to do such things before (because as Nora Ephron once said, “He didn’t like onions. Who doesn’t like onions? You can’t really cook without onions,”). I mean, truffle salt, for example. I use massive amounts of it (if you’re in Montreal or other parts of Canada, try to find Favuzzi truffle salt, or I can send you a jar), and despite the husband-imposed ban on fungi like so many other things, he knows full well that a lot of his food is laced heavily with it. In fact, he did a day trip to Montreal the other day and brought me back six jars. Seriously, if you want one, let me know.

  34. Connie

    I made the puttanesca tonight. I have Ellie Krieger’s The Food you Crave book, and it’s in there. It was delicious, and it smells great too! Thanks for putting this on my radar, Deb!

  35. anth0nyr0yer

    I sort of grew up with this pasta sauce, in beautiful Bologna, in northern Italy. But honestly, I never knew how to make it properly. I’ll give it a go now, hope it turns out as yummy as on your photos!

  36. Amanda Barrie

    This is a go-to in my house. Great flavor and quick to make. I’m temporarily eating a vegan diet for religious reasons. I just skip the anchovy paste and cheese and I add some chopped sauteed mushrooms. It’s still amazing!

  37. Brenda

    Mamma mia! Those *puttane* had the right idea. This is mighty fine. I didn’t have arugula, but did have some finely-chopped kale in the freezer, and it worked wonderfully. The only other change I made was sprinkling in a chiffonade of fresh basil leaves in the finished pasta, just before serving. Not to improve the dish, but because my basil keeps ON producing, and I have made and frozen enough pesto to open a little roadside pesto stand, and needed to use the new leaves up…

    …well, okay, I did do one more tweak (don’t we all?) I thought the one lonesome tablespoon of olive oil sounded a bit skimpy, so I used two. And oh, my, such a satisfying bowl of pasta. Best at room temp, not piping hot, I think.

  38. Ndeye Laura

    I threw in a can of tuna because I wanted it to be a little heartier/have some protein and it was delicious. (I also skipped the anchovies and arugula and subbed tomato puree for diced tomatoes & dried parsley for fresh. )

  39. Liz

    Hi Deb – quick Q. I seem to remember you steering clear of diced tomatoes in recent recipes. Assuming you would now recommend a substitution in this recipe, what would it be? Crushed? Thanks!

  40. I just made the Pasta Puttanesca with Broken Artichoke Hearts Salad recipe from Smitten Kitchen and it was absolutely delicious! The pasta dish was flavorful and hearty, the artichoke hearts added a nice texture and the salad was the perfect complement. I also appreciated the technique of “breaking” the artichoke hearts, it gave them a nice rustic feel. I will definitely be making this recipe again in the future. If you’re looking for more delicious recipe inspiration, check out my food blog Step-by-step recipe instructions

  41. Emjay

    I’ve made this many times before and it’s excellent –

    However, today I made this *almost* as written but in an attempt to eat more pulses and make the puttanesca a bit more of a one-pot meal, I also added a half-cup of pre-soaked lentils. As a result I threw in a couple more garlic cloves, a couple olives, and a little more parsley in the saute, added a tablespoon of tomato paste and sauteed that after the aromatics, and when the lentils went in with the tomatoes, so did a cup of broth. I found as it was simmering it wanted a little more water which I added a 1/4 cup at a time until the lentils were fully cooked and proceeded otherwise as normal. A perfect lunch.