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One-Pot Puttanesca Pasta

One thing I’ve known since I was a little girl: Italian food names are really fun to say. They can make even the simplest dish sound intriguing and festive—like puttanesca.

This Italian pasta sauce isn’t anything complicated, like Bolognese, nor is it something that is best made in a certain season when a specific ingredient, like tomatoes, are in their prime.

You can make puttanesca at any time of year: winter, spring, summer or fall. That’s because it’s composed of basic ingredients you’ll find stocked in your pantry (or fridge, once you’ve opened the jar).

one-pot puttanesca pasta
Photo: Casey Barber

According to Italian food historian and Feast on History co-founder Danielle Oteri, “The legend of puttanesca sauce is that it can be put together quickly by ladies of the night who have little time to eat before the brothel opens.”

That’s definitely more legend than fact, and despite its saucy reputation, the sauce is not actually that exotic. It’s nothing more than quick-simmered canned tomatoes, capers, garlic, anchovies, red pepper flakes, and olives.

Wait. You saw the word “anchovies” hidden in that list, didn’t you?

plate of puttanesca pasta
Photo: Casey Barber

Yes, puttanesca wouldn’t be half as good without the one-two briny punch of anchovies and olives. If I can’t convince you that you won’t taste them here, feel free to move on.

However, once the anchovies cook down into the tomato sauce, all you’ll experience is a savory umami undertone that makes the sauce taste richer. (See also: Caesar salad dressing.)

And do you know what would have made things even easier for those ladies of the night, grabbing a quick bite before work? Making one-pot puttanesca like I’m doing here.

plates of puttanesca pasta
Photo: Casey Barber

I’m the kind of girl who likes to make sure I have ingredients on hand for a pantry pasta. It’s always my first thought in an emergency dinner situation (that, or nachos. Either works!)

And with its incredible depth of flavor, one-pot puttanesca might very well become your new favorite pantry pasta.

plates of puttanesca pasta
Photo: Casey Barber

The one-pot pasta method is my favorite way of cutting down on dishes and energy while increasing the flavor in the pasta noodles themselves.

The technique is a perfect match for puttanesca sauce, since the liquid from the canned tomatoes needs to be cooked down and reduced anyway. Why not let the pasta soak it up?

If you want to use spaghetti or another long noodle, this method works best with a rustic, thick-cut style. Don’t try angel hair or thin spaghetti here, or it will get overcooked and mushy before your sauce has a chance to thicken.

one-pot puttanesca pasta

One-pot puttanesca also works well with other ridged pasta shapes that have a bit of “toothiness” to them, like penne, mezze rigatoni, or cavatappi.

Whatever you choose, you’ll have a hearty, intensely flavorful meal ready in under an hour.

plates of puttanesca pasta

One-Pot Puttanesca Pasta

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

One-pot puttanesca pasta makes a throw-together pantry meal even easier. Simmer your pasta with tomatoes, capers and olives for quick flavor.

Ingredients

  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 whole anchovy fillets, roughly torn
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 ounces (57 grams; about 1/2 cup) pitted and chopped black olives
  • 2 ounces (57 grams; about 1/2 cup) pitted and chopped green olives
  • 1 ounce (28 grams; about 2 tablespoons) capers, drained
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) thick spaghetti, penne, or other rustic-cut pasta

Instructions

  1. Strain the can of tomatoes over a large measuring cup to separate the liquid from the whole tomatoes. You should have about 1/2 cup of liquid, give or take.
  2. Add enough broth or water to the tomato liquid to measure 2 1/2 cups. Set both the whole tomatoes and the liquid aside.
  3. Add the olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes to a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot.
  4. Heat over low to medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the anchovies start to break down slightly and the garlic is fragrant.
  5. Add the tomatoes to the pot and gently crush them between your fingers (it's very satisfying). Be careful not to touch the bottom of the pot too much, as it is warm! I have no problem doing this in the pot, but if you're fearful, you can crush the tomatoes in a separate large bowl.
  6. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, as the tomatoes simmer and begin to thicken into a sauce.
  7. Add the reserved tomato broth, all the olives, and capers. Cover and bring to a simmer.
  8. Stir in the pasta. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10-12 minutes or until the pasta is al dente and has absorbed most of the liquid. Timing will vary slightly based on your pasta shape; if it's absorbing too much liquid before it's cooked, add more broth or water as needed.
  9. Divide between 4 bowls and serve.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 670Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 13gCholesterol: 5mgSodium: 829mgCarbohydrates: 108gFiber: 5gSugar: 6gProtein: 21g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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This post was originally published on July 1, 2011 and updated with all new information and a new recipe on November 15, 2021.

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18 Comments

  1. I love this sauce and make it often. I LOVE putting anchovies in it (harder with my vegetarian daughters). Never knew the backstory about where the name came from!

  2. Man, I lead such a sheltered life. I don’t think I’ve ever had anchovies (and, frankly, don’t really want to), but I had to try and refocus after you said you took a painting class in Italy. That’s awesome.

    1. As Living Large commented earlier, we swear if you add anchovies to most foods, they’ll essentially “melt” into whatever sauce/base you’re making and you can’t taste them at all – you’ll just get a residual salty, deep umami-ness that makes the dish that much richer. Try Danielle’s recipe for anchovies and greens if you want to branch out!

  3. Oh, I love both Florence and putanesca sauce–although my recipe didn’t include anchovies, so I guess it is not the real thing. I’ll remedy that next time.
    But I also love good writing, and this writing was as delicious as the recipe.

  4. a humbler sense of our size in world,indeed, and from my experiences anyway, a sense that we are all connected in many ways.

  5. Great puttanesca piece! I sometimes do a quick and dirty (pun intended?) version using eggplant “pasta” (an idea from Alton Brown.) It’s more about my desire for eggplant than it is a rejection of spaghetti.

    Danielle’s Italian recipes are not unlike putanas in that they invariably lure me in, convince me to stay a while, and eventually tomatoes are simmered.

  6. This post reminded me of when I lived abroad in college. Everyone should live in another country at some point–it opens your eyes to a lot of things.

  7. What a lovely post. It stirred my memories of some of my early travels in Italy. And, I have to say that puttanesca is my favorite pasta sauce.

  8. I made it again for dinner last night and am enjoying it for lunch today. The beauty of these saucy dishes is that they taste even better as leftovers.

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