Pasta alla puttanesca is one of the many dishes of the Italian gastronomic culture that does not have a precise and codified recipe.
It does not even have a “scientifically” proven geographical connotation such as to be claimed as exclusive from one territory over another.
However, we can say that it is a recycled dish, or rather, an easy to assemble pasta with canned products available in all kitchens and, above all, its preparation ranges across all families and restauranteurs from north to south of the boot.
But this does not mean that it lacks its own taste identity!
But why and from what does puttanesca pasta come from? With this term, certainly not sober, which suggests the oldest profession in the world or those brothels so widespread in Italian society prior to the Merlin Law?
Many more or less well-founded or imaginative stories are told about the origin of pasta alla puttanesca. Among these, one concerns the habit of eating pasta fast, during meal breaks in brothels. But I like to think that it all started with the bizarre exclamation of an innkeeper: “Puttana Eva” (a very common expression in Italy and often used as an interlayer during moments of anger).
The innkeeper cook would exclaim this at the entrance of yet another diner, but with the kitchen already closed and all the dishes washed and finished.
“What am I going to cook for him now?” he asked himself, just not to let it escape!
It certainly did not lack imagination and creativity. Then, he took a little of all the canned products: salted anchovies, capers, dried tomatoes and canned tuna, black and white olives. Garlic, as well as chilli, pepper and oil are never lacking in the kitchen.
He added a sprig of parsley and oregano, a touch of grated old cheese and invented the “Pasta alla puttanesca”, one of the most popular pastas for tourists visiting Italy.
Yes, of the different schools of thought, this is one of the most credible hypotheses. But being, I repeat, one of the many famous Italian pastas not codified, Cucinare per Passione evolves into “Sicilian Buttanesca“, because here in Sicily, the host would have exclaimed: “buttana ra miseria“.
Then we add zest, lemon juice, magic tuna bottarga powders and toasted and spiced breadcrumbs and crunchy toasted almond grains. And here the uncoded Italian puttanesca becomes “Tagliolini alla Buttanesca Siciliana in the fashion of Cooking for Passion.” Because of all the ingredients necessary for the preparation, Sicily is the undisputed protagonist, with its historical and popular products.
Sicilian ingredients. Anchovy from Sciacca, Favignana tuna and bottarga, Nubia garlic, Siccagno dried tomatoes, “e ciuruse” olives in brine, Pantelleria capers, “Val di Mazara” EVO oil, fresh and dry red chilli, almonds from the Sicani mountains, Sicilian bread, fresh and aged cheeses from the Ragusa highlands or the Sicane and Madonite hills, citrus fruits from the Conca d’Oro and Piana di Catania.
You are spoiled for choice. But there is no embarrassment to use all or only a part of them.
Recipe for Sicilian Buttanesca Pasta
The complete recipe and the dish in the tasting version and in the “belly” version 1.
Ingredients for two servings:
- 200 gr of pasta of your choice (short or long). I used semi-fresh tagliolini
- fresh red pepper
- anchovy fillets
- salted capers
- dried tomato
- black and white olives without pits (please, not the horrendous supermarket pitted olives that taste like soda)
- extra virgin olive oil
- canned tuna
- freshly ground black pepper
- freshly grated caciocavallo and pecorino cheese
- juice and zest of 1 lemon (I used a lumia)
- flavoured breadcrumbs
- chopped toasted hazelnuts.
- white wine to blend to taste.
No added salt: there is already enough in the ingredients.
To start, prepare a coarse mixture of capers, anchovies, chilli, garlic, olives and dried tomatoes and put it in a pan with 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Leave to fry for a couple of minutes over high heat.
Deglaze with half a glass of white wine to taste (I didn’t use it). Then soften the sauce that tends to dry with a ladle of pasta cooking water and add the canned tuna, a pinch of dried oregano, a sprig of chopped parsley, a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Let it cook until it has absorbed the ladle of water.
With the heat off, scrape the zest of a lemon and the juice of half a lemon and add it to the sauce to give a touch of freshness to the mixture that tends to excessively flavour.
Drop the pasta in with plenty of freshly salted water. I used the tagliolini, but any shape of long or short pasta, fresh or dry, is fine. The pasta for the Puttanesca is not coded with the pasta very al dente, rekindle the fire on the pan and add the pasta together with a couple of ladles of cooking water.
Allow part of the water to be absorbed to ‘re-cook’ the pasta during cooking, handling it with a fork. Stir in the joyful Sicilian concoction and the pasta over high heat by adding another drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, the mix of grated caciocavallo and pecorino cheeses, and sauté vigorously.
Et voilà, here we are ready to exclaim: “Sicilian Buttanesca!” and to serve on plates to taste.
Complete the dish with a small piece of fresh parsley, a drizzle of raw extra virgin olive oil, the bottarga and toasted breadcrumbs and chopped toasted almonds.
Bon appetit from Fabrizio Ricotta