Monday, May 31, 2010

Putanesca: a Sauce for the Working Girls

Here's an Italian dish that was fun to write up in my cooking column in the Athens banner-Herald.

How can I phrase this delicately for a family-oriented publication? "Sugo alla Puttanesca," a tangy Neapolitan pasta dressing of garlic, hot pepper, anchovies, olives, capers and tomatoes, means (gently speaking) sauce for ladies of negotiable virtue.

A post-World War II newcomer to Italian cuisine, it has a name whose origins are as rife with speculation as they are skimpy on authority. Cheap shots like "fast" and "easy to make" don't help. One explanation is that since the sauce requires only ingredients typically available in poor urban Italian kitchens, someone working indoors with little time between clients could throw it together quickly. Time is money, after all. While several attributions point to the notorious brothels of Naples (can you imagine those kitchens?), one Italian cookbook claims Trastevere, a poor district in Rome, another, Calabria. Yet another, citing interesting research, says puttanesca was created not by "working girls," but by a flamboyant local artist and host on the Isle of Ischia near Naples.

Italian sauces are often wryly named - "marinara" (sailor's sauce), "carbonara" (charcoal maker's sauce), "Fra Diavolo" (Brother Devil's sauce - titled like a Catholic monk). So whether pasta alla puttanesca really emerged from the sex trade is a mystery. But with its catchy name, it gets attention. It's also delicious.

What pasta to serve with puttanesca? Spaghetti (in Italian, little cords) and vermicelli (little worms) are typical in Naples. But linguini (little tongues), a pasta for seafood, seems reasonable because of the anchovies. Puttanesca with "ziti," originally a lengthy tubular pasta named "bridegrooms" (I'm not making this stuff up), probably is not a wise pairing.

The anchovy fillets should be olive oil-packed. Greek Kalamata olives are preferred over waxy, dull California black olives. The crushed red pepper is the same as used on pizza. For canned tomatoes, Hunt's is my favorite American brand. The "trick," a risky word in this context, is to make the sauce quickly while a big pot of water boils for cooking the pasta when the sauce is nearly done. Cheese is not customary with puttanesca.

Accompany with crusty bread and a simple green salad. Because of the anchovies, Italian food writers recommend dry white wines. I like a light-bodied Chardonnay, or a California or Oregon Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris.

Pasta alla Puttanesca

4 large cloves garlic, minced

1 2-ounce can anchovy fillets (save oil), coarsely chopped

24 Greek Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

6 tablespoons oil from anchovies plus olive oil

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes (Hunt's preferred)

Salt to taste

10 ounces spaghetti

Heat large covered pot of water for pasta. Keep at low boil until needed. Prepare all the ingredients.

In large frying pan over low heat, fry garlic in the oil 10 seconds, stirring. Add anchovies and red pepper. Stir and fry 1/2 minute. Add tomatoes, olives and capers. Raise heat and boil, stirring, 2 minutes. Taste, and add salt as needed, making sauce slightly salty. Remove from heat and stir in parsley.

As sauce is cooking, add a tablespoon salt to pasta water, and over high heat add pasta, stirring immediately so it doesn't stick. As pasta softens, bite a piece to test. When just tender, drain in colander and shake off excess water.

In large serving bowl, toss pasta with 3/4 of the sauce. Spoon the remainder over the pasta.

Serves six as starter course, four as a meal.


Blogger 雲亨Ab9雲亨 said...

your english is incredible............................................................

6:15 PM  

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