pastaby Lily Rae, from Fightmilk – originally published here

Puttanesca ticks every box for me. It’s a crowdpleaser you can throw together when you’ve got no money and a bunch of mystery jars in your cupboard – this has been the case for most of my adult life, and so it’s something of a signature dish by now. Done well it’s robust, salty, and blood-red, the sour tang of the green olives (not black, thanks) bouncing off the deep brininess of the anchovies. Look at me, practicing to be an actual food writer.

A couple of things – I find that dried basil is a bit intense and sweet for this and so I just stick to oregano, but to each their own. I also find that crumbled feta works nicely as a topping, and is generally a bit cheaper than parmesan. Warning: I guarantee whoever you make this for will end up falling in love with you. If they don’t like it, tell them to jog on.

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 red chillies (1 if you’re a wuss, 3 if you’re a winner)
  • 5-6 anchovy fillets in oil or brine
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • Red wine
  • a huge tablespoon of capers
  • Just a whole bunch of pitted green olives
  • Grated parmesan or crumbled feta

First, finely chop the garlic, chilli, and anchovies. Add a tablespoon of oil from the tinned anchovies to in a frying pan on a low-medium heat and chuck the garlic/chilli/anchovy mix in. If your anchovies are in brine, heat a tablespoon of olive oil instead.

Let the pan begin to hiss a bit and keep the mixture on the move with a spatula – garlic burns very easily, but you want the salty oil from the anchovies to melt out and coat everything. After five minutes, or when your eyes start stinging from the fish/garlic/chilli fumes, add the tomato puree.

When everything has melted together to form a kind of paste, slowly add the chopped tomatoes. Add about half a tin at a time, stirring it into the mix; you don’t want to overload your paste with all the cold tomatoes at once. Bring your heat up a smidge.

You can also liberally splash some red wine in at this point – it’s probably best to use a miniature bottle of slightly crap wine rather than the actual reduced nice stuff you bought at the start of the month because it is, of course, a drink, and you should. Cook for another 5-8 minutes.

Sprinkle in the oregano. Bring it to a gentle simmer and then turn the heat down and let it think about itself for 20 minutes or so. Have a glass of the nice wine that you didn’t put in the sauce.

Add your capers and olives – if you’re feeling frisky, put a splash of the olive juice in as well – and let them sit there for another 10 minutes or so (you add these afterwards so you don’t cook the fun out of them).

While that’s doing its thing, cook your pasta in salted water. Follow the instructions on the packet, I’m not your nanny. Oh, you’ve made your own pasta? Good for you.

When it’s al dente, sieve it out, keeping a little bit of pasta water in the saucepan to stop it from all sticking together and going weird.

Serve your pasta with a couple of hefty spoonfuls of puttanesca, fresh basil if you’ve got it, and a nice pile of whatever cheese you’ve gone for.


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