Newfoundland born and bred, I'm a housewife and mother with a knack for cooking and writing about it!
While watching a cooking competition on T.V. Sunday night, one of the dishes the eventual victor made was spaghetti alla puttanesca. The judges all marveled not only at the wondrous medley of flavours, but also the relative simplicity of the dish. To which I mused, "Hmmm . . . a relatively simplistic, wondrous medley of flavours. How could I have never tried puttanesca before?" This recipe is the result.
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca With Sausage
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- 375 grams smoked, cooked pork sausage, sliced into 1 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 anchovies packed in oil, finely chopped, (can substitute with 1 tbsp anchovy paste)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 1 x 10 oz can fire roasted tomatoes
- 1 x 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup kalmata olives, pitted and chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, roughly chopped
- To taste salt and pepper
- 12 oz pk spaghetti or pasta of choice
- Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add sliced smoked, cooked pork sausage to skillet and saute until golden brown on both sides. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
- In the same skillet, heat another 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and saute until tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add finely chopped anchovies, (or anchovy paste if using), and minced garlic to skillet with onions and stir. Cook until anchovies have disintegrated and garlic fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Stir in tomato paste and red chili flakes until ingredients in pan are slightly coated with paste, about 1 minute. Add olives, capers, crushed tomatoes, fire roasted tomatoes and oregano—stir to combine. Bring contents to a low boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low and allow sauce to simmer and reduce for about 20-30 minutes.
- Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. When pasta is al dente, or still slightly firm, drain pasta and return to pot.
- Add 1 cup of Puttanesca sauce to pasta and toss to coat. Sprinkle chopped fresh basil over remaining Puttanesca sauce and stir to incorporate.
- To serve, plate individual portion of pasta and top with Puttanesca sauce. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
Where Did This Dish Come From? The History of Puttanesca
Before I made the dish, I decided I'd do a little research about the origins and history of puttanesca. Was it named for some medieval nobleman or romantic literary character? Does it date back hundreds of years? Nothing beats a good story as to the origins of dish to share with your guests around the dining table.
I have to say, initially, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that puttanesca is not some extravagant dish prepared, and duly named, for some intriguing individual. It isn't even hundreds of years old, passed down from mothers to daughters for generations. Nope. Puttanesca sauce dates back to World War II Italy which makes it less than 100 years old and, literally translated, means 'of, relating to or characteristic of a prostitute'. Yup, you read that right. Prostitute.
There are a few theories on the naming of puttanesca. Apparently, during World War II, and for several years following, employment opportunities for women were few and far between and options were limited. As such, there was a noticeable increase in the number of 'ladies of the night'. One theory on the naming of puttanesca is that it was quick and easy enough for a working girl to prepare in between customers. Another theory is that the intoxicating aroma of the sauce lured potential clients in from the street. Others say that puttanesca is so highly flavourful and yet relatively quick and easy to make that it was a favourite of married women who wished to limit their time in the kitchen in order to spend more time with their paramours.
All of these theories give puttanesca a certain seductive connotation but maybe the naming of this sauce has more to do with it's ingredients than literal translation. Anchovies eaten raw have long been touted as having an aphrodisiac effect. Black olives are said to increase female libido. In Biblical times, the caper berry was considered to have aphrodisiac properties and in fact, the Hebrew word for 'caper berry' is closely linked to the Hebrew word for 'desire'. T
Tomatoes are considered the 'apples of love' and while onion breath might not be sexy, onions supposedly strengthen reproductive organs and increase testosterone, which boosts libido in both men and women. Lastly, garlic is sometimes called the 'hot herb' that inflames the passions and actually, modern research suggests that due to its ability to improve circulation, garlic may also improve sexual performance in some men.
So maybe it's stories of the sirens of Naples, or the thought of Italian women sneaking out to spend time with their paramours, but quite possibly it's the actual ingredients themselves that put the eroticism in the naming of puttanesca, no one seems to know for sure. But what I do know for sure is this: you now have a tantalizing little topic of discussion to engage in with your guests when you make Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with Sausage!
A Closer Look at the Ingredients
There are a lot of variations for puttanesca, with the addition of proteins like, well, sausage, or the adding or omitting of other ingredients.
However, there are certain key ingredients in every good puttanesca sauce:
- black olives
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Some of these ingredients can be a little off-putting, namely anchovies, black olives and capers but trust me on this, these three are absolutely integral for the overall end product. If the mere thought of anchovies, black olives and/or capers makes you shudder, be prepared to be amazed! Personally I don't mind either one on their own, but combined in puttanesca sauce, they are simply, well, wondrous!
The anchovies practically disintegrate into the sauce but if someone really has a dislike for black olives and capers, heck, they can just pick those guys out! I personally love olives, all olives, but in particular kalamata olives. When choosing olives at the grocery store, I always head to the deli department for non-pitted kalamatas because I read somewhere that kalamata olives with the pits still in them are probably fresher, and less processed, than those in a can. I also always pick up more than I need for any given recipe because it's inevitable that several will find their way into my mouth and not into the pot!
But perhaps my most favourite ingredient in puttanesca sauce is the capers! Capers are the edible flower buds of the caper bush, also known as Flinders Rose. Capers are high in flavonoid compounds that are potential sources of antioxidants, contain minerals like iron, copper, are storehouse for vitamins such as vitamin A, K, riboflavin and niacin and are considered to be bad enzyme busters. Normally they're jarred in brine so I always rinse and pat dry my capers before using them, (and tossing several into my mouth at the same time). Capers just bring a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to any dish and there's really nothing in the spice shelf that compares.
Whether or Not to Use Sausage
So, my family likes it's meat. My daughter always says she's a 'meatatarian'. Sure, they're fine with a salad for lunch or as a side dish, but when it comes to supper, they expect protein on their plate. With that in mind, I didn't want to go the simple route and just add some diced chicken breasts to my puttanesca sauce and felt that sausage would be a nice switch from the ordinary.
I used four smoked, fully cooked pork sausages and simply sliced them up and gave them a little flash in the pan to brown up a little bit and then removed them from the pan before progressing with my puttanesca sauce. Adding any meat, not alone, sausage, to puttanesca is purely an individual choice thing. I did, you don't have to - whatever floats your boat I say.
Puttanesca Sauce With Sausage
Now comes the main part of this dish . . . getting my 'alla Puttanesca' on, and no, I don't mean slipping into something more comfortable! In the same skillet that I browned the pork sausage, I heated up about 1 tablespoon of olive oil. To that I add one medium onion, chopped. I let the onion saute and tenderize for about 10 minutes before adding the garlic and anchovies.
If you use whole anchovies, you'll want to mince them up before adding to the pan. I used anchovy paste when I made my sauce because that's what I had on hand. I rarely have little cans of anchovies because while I like the flavour they add, I'm not apt to add a whole can of them to anything . . . ever. But hey, if you're a lover of anchovies, use two, four or the whole can including the oil, it's entirely up to you. Just make sure to finely chop the anchovies and they'll pretty much disintegrate with cooking.
Once the garlic was fragrant and the anchovy paste was well incorporated, I stirred in 2 tablespoons tomato paste, tossing everything around until the onion was nicely coated with the tomato paste. I then added the chopped kalamata olives, a couple of pinches of red chili flakes, 1 tsp dried oregano, 2 tbsp rinsed capers, one 10 oz can of fire-roasted tomatoes and one 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes. After everything's been added to the skillet, bring entire contents to a low boil, cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 20-30 minutes.
I've seen recipes that simply call for whole canned tomatoes, skinned real tomatoes, diced tomatoes, seasoned diced tomatoes and no added salt tomatoes so when it comes to the tomatoes, use what you prefer and/or have on hand. No fuss, no muss, that's the way this sauce rolls! I personally love the flavour of fire-roasted tomatoes but I only had one can on hand which is why I also used crushed tomatoes.
You might have noted that there's no mention of me seasoning anything to this point with salt and pepper and there's a good reason for that—I didn't! I felt that between the sausage, olives, red chili flakes and capers, that the sauce just might be salty and peppery enough, which it was for my liking. In any event, I would recommend waiting until after the sauce has simmered for 20 minutes or so, tasting it and adding salt and pepper to your taste.
While the sauce was simmering, I brought a large pot of salted water to boil to cook some dry spaghetti, as per package directions. I opted to use spaghetti, but again, use what you prefer whether that's penne, fettucini, linguine, you catch my drift here —whatever floats your boat! (See how amazingly flexible this recipe is?).
When the pasta was cooked to al dente, (soft but still with a little bit of 'bite'), I removed it from the heat, drained it and returned it to the pot it was cooked in. I then tested my puttanesca sauce and added a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped fresh basil. I added about one cup of the puttanesca sauce to the pasta and tossed to coat. To plate, I placed pasta in a shallow dish, topped with the puttanesca sauce and topped with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
How Did You Like the Recipe?
You know, no matter what I make for my family, I always feel like I'm giving them a little piece of me and as such, I always like to hear what they think of the dish I placed in front of them. I had a funny feeling this dish would be well received because I didn't even have to call them to come to the table for supper—they were already seated and waiting! The aroma from this dish is just THAT amazing!
I have to say, anchovies, olives, capers, red chili flakes, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, basil, sausage - they all have very distinctive, aromatic and strong flavours and in this dish, they were all like individual instruments in an orchestra and the final dish, a masterpiece by Puccini!
This dish is simplistic, rustic and so very Mediterranean. It's one of those things that you put in your mouth that wakes up each and every taste bud. This dish has the aroma and flavour that makes one feel like they are truly enjoying something made by a gourmet chef, which I assure you I am not.
Dishes like this take weeknight supper from food as nourishment to food as an experience! Some dishes, like this one, simply seem to transport you from your own kitchen table to a quaint 'ristorante' and that little journey, however brief, has to release 'feel good' hormones that invigorate your soul and yes, maybe even your amorous side!
Selecting a Wine for Pairing
I'm no wine expert, not by a long shot. I like what I like and I don't like what I don't like. Pretty simple. With that in mind, as I often do when inspired by a dish I'm preparing, I did a google search to see what those who are experts would pair with puttanesca sauce. Such a search can be a little daunting because there are many, many professed 'wine experts' out there.
What I usually do is just randomly pick a couple of sites in the top 5 results for my search, compare notes, and jot down a few suggested wines. From there, I go to the website for my local liquor store which has an excellent 'product search' section that allows me to type in the type of wine from what region and then see what pairs well with my pocketbook, which for me is equally important as how the wine tastes.
I usually pick a white and a red if I'm serving guests, just to cover my bases, but this time around, I was preparing this meal for my family. Only my husband and I would be indulging in a little vino with our meal and we prefer reds for the most part. After reading the suggestions from a couple of the top results for my search for 'wine that pairs with puttanesca sauce', I decided to go with the recommendations I found on www.winetomatch.com, which was an Aglianico from Basilicata. I then went to the website for my local liquor store, www.nlc.com, and began my product search, entering the data of colour/red, origin/Italy and varietal/Aglianico.
To my delight, there was an Aglianico available in the 'Last Chance' section of the liquor store, which meant it was on sale! Bonus! The wine I bought was Terredora Aglianico Il Principe IGT, a very dry " wine, made form 100% Aglianico grapes" that has "an intense ruby red colour with violet reflections". "It shows black cherry, wild blackberry and plum fruit flavours with a spicy toasted overtone. Soft and elegant, it is surprisingly long in the mouth with notes of mature red fruits and displays the structure necessary for long ageing."
All I can tell you is that my husband and I really liked this wine. It was full-bodied and yet not to heavy on the palate. (Look at me being all wine-y!). Beyond that, if ever there was a doubt that a wine could elevate an already delicious dish, this wine put all doubt to rest. It really did amplify the overall euphony of flavours and I highly recommend that you give it a try.