THE history of pasta puttanesca has many colourful Italian folk tales behind this salty tomato sauce. No puttanesca is complete without a knowing wink to the literal translation of the name — Tart's spaghetti.

Whatever the truth about its origins, some believe it was a sauce created by a restaurant owner who had many guests come to his restaurant late at night to eat as he was about to close.

He didn't have enough of any one ingredient to make a meal for them all so he took everything out of his kitchen and put it together to make this legendary pasta sauce.

The most quoted story was that it was a cheap dish working girls of the night could knock up from the cupboard between tricks, and the intense aroma would lure men in from the street into the houses of ill repute.

Whatever its origins, puttanesca is a very tasty and vibrant sauce, the basic recipe is flexible so you can add your own additions such as a pan fried chicken breast or a piece of fish served on the top.

The next time you order alla puttanesca in an an Italian restaurant or indeed cook this yourself you can chuckle thinking of the ladies of the night cooking this dish while recovering from their activities.


4-6 people

1 pkt of good quality Italian Spaghetti (de cecco)

200g black olives stoned (chopped)

200g jar of capers

1 tin of anchovies in olive oil

1 fresh chilli or according to your taste (chopped)

3 cloves of garlic

2 tins of good quality tinned tomatoes

salt and pepper to taste

100g olive oil

freshly grated parmesan for garnish

fresh basil leaves


1. Cook your spaghetti in a pan of salted boiling water according to the instructions.

2. Add the olive oil to your a frying pan and fry the garlic (careful not to burn) add the drained capers, chopped anchovies, black olives and chilli.

Fry for a few minutes until you can smell all the flavours infusing, then add the tins of tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes until the sauce has reduced, season to taste remember that the anchovies are salty.

3. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss until all the spaghetti is coated with this punchy, tangy sauce. Place in a big serving bowl sprinkle with parmesan and basil leaves.

I serve this very quick tasty dish with a rocket salad, and a glass of Barbera which goes fabulous with a rustic dish such as this, or if you prefer a white there is a crisp southern Italian wine such as Falanghini or Greco.