Authentic Pasta Puttanesca: the Original Recipe to Make the Famous Italian Pasta Dish

Total time: 20 mins.
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 2 people
By Cookist

Pasta alla Puttanesca is a delicious main course of the Italian gastronomic tradition, born between Naples and Ischia at the beginning of last century, where it is better known as "aulive e chiapparielli". It is a quick and easy recipe made with spaghetti, tomato sauce, olives and capers: a few minutes and enjoyment is guaranteed. Perfect for informal dinners with friends, or a quick lunch when you don't have much time.

Pasta Puttanesca's Origins

Even if the "official" name is "puttanesca", in the Neapolitan capital this sauce is mostly called "aulive e chiapparielli" or simply "olives and capers". The unique flavor of Pasta alla Puttanesca is given by the flavor of the capers and olives from Gaeta or Itri, two cities in the province of Latina. Precisely for this reason in Lazio more than one person appropriates the invention of the recipe. There is no official proof in this regard but there is actually a "Lazio variant" to this dish: the addition of salted anchovies goes beyond the confines of puttanesca. The traditional Neapolitan version includes tomatoes, black olives, capers, garlic and chili pepper if desired; with the addition of salted anchovies we magically find ourselves in the Lazio region even if the name remains unchanged.

However, Latina's version should only be a variation of the Campania recipe, given by the common origins of the territory (Latina was once in Campania). On the contrary, it is almost certain that the recipe was born in Ischia in the 1950s. The story takes us to a closing restaurant on the Isola Verde which, despite everything, welcomes guests who are friends of the chef. Unfortunately, however, there is very little left in the pantry: a bit of tomato, a few olives, capers ina jar. The chef warns the customers but they calmly reassure him by saying that "any bullshit" is enough and that they have no demands. The chef returns to the kitchen and collects the leftover ingredients: enough to create a sauce that would later enter the history of Italian cuisine.

According to the American gastronomic writer and popularizer Arthur Schwartz , however, the term "puttanesca" derives from a brothel in the Quartieri Spagnoli "which used to refresh its guests with this dish, taking advantage of its speed and ease of preparation". The author of "Naples at table", a sort of gastronomic guide for Americans which covers the whole of Campania, also hypothesizes a "reference to the underwear of the girls of the house which, to attract and entice the customer's eye, they probably wore linen of all kinds, in flashy colors and full of promising transparencies". The many colors of this clothing would be found in the sauce of the same name : the green of the parsley, the red of the tomatoes, the dark purple of the olives, the grey-green of the capers, the garnet color of the chillies. Others maintain that the origin of the name can be attributed to the imagination of a real girl, Yvette the French , who was inspired by her Provençal origins. Yvette was probably not only gifted with imagination, but also with a sense of humor and a somewhat caustic irony , which she perhaps exploited to celebrate, through the name of this dish, the oldest profession in the world."

Puttanesca Vs. Arrabbiata: What are The Differences?

Arrabbiata and Puttanesca are both classic Italian pasta sauces known for their bold flavors, but they differ significantly in ingredients and taste profiles. Arrabbiata sauce, originating from Rome, is a spicy sauce made primarily from tomatoes, garlic, and dried red chili peppers cooked in olive oil. The name "arrabbiata" means "angry" in Italian, referring to the heat of the chili peppers. It is typically served with pasta like penne and is noted for its simplicity and fiery character.

Puttanesca, on the other hand, comes from Naples and offers a more complex flavor. It includes tomatoes, olive oil, olives, capers, and garlic, with variations often adding anchovies. This sauce is aromatic, with a salty and slightly tangy character that complements the spiciness. The name "puttanesca" has a colorful history, supposedly named after the ladies of the night who quickly prepared it between clients.

What Does Pasta Puttanesca Go Well With?

Here are some curated options that enhance the dining experience. As a side dish you can either go with grilled asparagus, which can add a fresh dimension to the meal, or with an aromatic focaccia, excellent for soaking up the vibrant sauce of the puttanesca.

As for desserts, after such a flavorful main course, a refreshing lemon cream cleanses the palate with its sharp citrus notes, offering a light finish.For a richer dessert, tiramisu pairs wonderfully. Its creamy layers of mascarpone and subtle coffee hints provide a luxurious end to your meal.Simple yet delightful, a strawberry mousse brings a natural sweetness that complements without overwhelming the savory flavors of the main dish.

Tips for the Perfect Pasta Puttanesca

Since the recipe has few components, using high-quality ingredients makes a big difference. Opt for good-quality canned cherry tomatoes and the best extra virgin olive oil you can find.

– The water you cook the pasta in should be well-salted; it should taste like seawater. This is your chance to season the pasta itself.

– Sauté the garlic until just golden; don’t let it burn as that will introduce a bitter taste. Also, slicing the garlic thinly or using a garlic press can enhance the flavor distribution.

– When adding the crushed red chili pepper, adjust the quantity according to your heat preference. Start with a small amount and increase as needed to avoid overpowering the dish.

– Let the sauce simmer uncovered to reduce and thicken it slightly, which concentrates the flavor. Stir occasionally to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the pan.

– Cook the pasta until it is al dente (still firm when bitten). This ensures it doesn’t become too soft when tossed with the sauce.

– Before draining, save some of the pasta water. Its starchiness helps the sauce cling to the spaghetti more effectively.

– After adding the pasta to the sauce, toss it vigorously in the pan to help emulsify the sauce with the pasta water and olive oil. This creates a creamy and homogeneously coated pasta dish.

– Add fresh parsley right before serving to maintain its vibrant color and fresh flavor.

– Pasta alla Puttanesca should be served hot, right after combining with the sauce. This ensures that the pasta is at its best texture and the flavors are bold and dynamic.

More Authentic Italian Pasta Recipes You Have to Try

Pasta alla Gricia

Spaghetti Nerano

Cacio e Pepe

Spaghetti Carbonara

How to Store Pasta Puttanesca

Let the pasta cool to room temperature before storing. Use an airtight container to retain freshness and prevent absorbing other flavors from the fridge. The pasta should be fine in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days. The sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months.


200 grams
Canned tomatoes
400 grams
Italian black olives
200 grams
Extra virgin olive oil
2-3 tbsp
Garlic cloves
Red chili pepper
Chopped fresh parsley
1 handful
to taste

How to Prepare Pasta Puttanesca

Start boiling the water for the pasta.

Prepare all the ingredients, chopping the chili pepper, cleaning the two garlic cloves and taking the bone out of the olive.

Then, also clean the capers.

Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil inside of a pan.

Sauté the garlic clove until they're golden, then stir in the capers, the black olives, and a pinch of crushed red chili peppers for the spiciness.

Pour in the canned cherry tomatoes, season with salt and let the whole mixture simmer for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, cook the pasta until it's al dente.

Add a pinch of fresh parsley to the sauce.

Drain the spaghetti and add them to the sauce pan, with a splash of the pasta's cooking water, to help the creaming of the sauce. Toss everything together to amalgamate the ingredients and add some olive oil.

When serving on a plate, garnish your Pasta alla Puttanesca with freshly chopped parsley, and enjoy while still hot.

Every dish has a story
Find out more on Cookist social networks
api url views