Monday, April 4, 2011

6 Recipe #257: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

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Do you like spicy, zesty pasta dishes? If so, spaghetti alla puttanesca is for you. :)

When referring to the sauce itself, Italians refer to it as puttanesca al sugo in Italian. This classic, flavorful, Southern Italian sauce is traditionally served with spaghetti, but of course you can serve with various other pasta shapes -- like penne, linguine, or even cavatappi. It also goes extremely well with fish, particularly tilapia, sole, or any other mild white fish that could use a bit of zing to perk it up a bit. ;) If you're going to serve the sauce with fish, I'd recommend grilling or pan-searing the fish in this particular instance.

Speaking of which, my tilapia Veracruzana recipe has a very similar sauce, except it's a Mexican recipe and, unlike this recipe, doesn't contain any garlic, onions, red pepper chili flakes, lemon juice, or anchovies. Again, like the Caesar salad recipe, there aren't enough anchovies in this recipe to make the sauce fishy-tasting; plus, soaking the anchovies in lemon juice will "cold cook" them, and therefore, neutralize their flavor. Plus, they're also cooked in a pan until they've dissolved into the other ingredients. Honestly, you can barely taste the anchovies in the sauce -- it's not a flavor that pops out as a distinct entity. However, they'll still add a little something (i.e., something savory ;) ) to the finished product when combined with the other ingredients.

The traditional Italian version of spaghetti alla puttanesca is typically prepared with anchovies, except if you're making the Neopolitan version. In contrast, while the American version of this recipe doesn't usually contain anchovies, it does have onions in it. The below recipe is more or less an amalgamation of both the Italian and American styles. Plus, I make it my own by adding some red wine, shallots (instead of onions), and roasted red peppers to the sauce, and also by making the sauce a bit chunkier than the standard version, all of which give it a lot more body and dimension. ;) The red wine, in particular, really adds something special to the sauce; and, you'll also find that, if you peruse this blog's recipe archive, I'm partial to adding it to many different tomato-based dishes. :)

One good thing is that, unlike a lot of other preparations of this dish, you won't have to simmer the sauce for an eternity. ;) The sauce itself takes only about 20 minutes to cook from start to finish. This also has another hidden bonus: The sauce will taste more vibrant this way, since you're not pummeling the flavors into submission by cooking the sauce for longer than 20 minutes. (The longer you cook herbs and vegetables, the less potent they become. And, in some cases, like basil, they'll actually turn bitter if cooked for too long.) There are also health benefits to "quick-cooking" the sauce: More nutrients will be preserved this way than if you were to cook the sauce for, let's say, 40-60+ minutes. :)

This recipe is especially for my pal, Jen, who's a huge fan of this dish. :) A while back, I mentioned to her that I'd been planning to create and post a spaghetti alla puttanesca recipe, and would eventually get around to doing this at some point. See, I'm a penguin -- er, I mean a person -- of my word. :)

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

1 large, whole red bell pepper (makes 1/2 c. roasted red pepper)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 c. shallots, peeled & finely diced (about 1/4 large onion)
1 Tbsp. garlic, peeled & finely minced (about 2 large cloves)
2 small anchovy fillets (from a can), soaked in 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice for 10 minutes, then drained & mashed (makes about 1 tsp. mashed) (if unavailable, 1 tsp. anchovy paste will also work as well)
1/8 tsp. red pepper chili flakes, or to taste
1/4 c. Malbec or other non-oaky, dark, full-bodied red wine (I used a 2007 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec.)
1 c. fresh, medium-sized vine ripened tomatoes, diced (including the juice) (about 2 medium-sized vine ripened tomatoes)
1/2 c. (4 oz.) sun-dried tomatoes (i.e., the kind that's not packed in oil), julienned
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 Tbsp. capers, soaked in 2 Tbsp. water for 10 minutes and then drained (to remove briny flavor) (about 20 large capers)
1/4 c. Kalamata olives, pitted & coarsely chopped (about 10 large Kalamata olives)
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1/2 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, finely minced and densely packed
1/2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, densely packed
1 tsp. fresh marjoram leaves, finely minced and densely packed
1 Tbsp. fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped and densely packed
8 oz. (2 servings) of Barilla Plus (i.e., Omega-3 enriched) dry spaghetti (measure with a pasta measure)
6 c. lightly salted water, seasoned with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil (to boil pasta)
2 Tbsp. Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated or shredded (1 Tbsp. per person)

Directions: Roast the peppers: Roast the pepper (whole) on the top rack of a 500°F preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until lightly charred/blackened (but not grey/burnt). Every 10 minutes or so, carefully open the oven, pull out rack, & rotate peppers a quarter-turn using heat-proof tongs, & then return to oven. You'll end up doing this procedure a total of 4 times, so that all four sides of the peppers become evenly roasted.

While the peppers are roasting, prepare your other ingredients: Now is the perfect time to do all of the kitchen prep work as listed above: Chop the vegetables (shallots, garlic, vine-ripened tomatoes, olives, and herbs), soak the anchovies and capers in separate custard dishes, etc. Then, get all of your ingredients ready to transfer into the sauce: Place the chopped shallots, vine-ripened tomatoes, and parsley into three separate bowls, respectively. Then, combine the garlic, soaked and drained anchovies, and red pepper flakes together in a single bowl, and the tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and olives all together in another. Finally, combine the oregano, thyme, and marjoram together in yet another bowl.

Prepare the roasted peppers: When the roasted pepper is done, carefully pull the tray out of the oven. Using heat-proof tongs, transfer the tray to a heat-proof surface and let stand for 10 minutes. When peppers have completely cooled, pick them up using the heat-proof tongs, and hold them over the sink, one at a time. Remove the stems, & then drain the liquid into the sink. Then place peppers back onto the tray & peel off the skin. (The skin should peel off fairly easily.) Slice open each pepper & scrape out the seeds with a paring knife. (If some of the seeds are still sticking to the peppers, wash them off under running water; that usually does the trick.) Transfer peppers to a nonporous, heat-proof surface (preferably a silicone cutting board) & finely dice. Place roasted peppers into the same bowl as the diced tomatoes and set aside.

Make the sauce: Heat olive oil on high heat in a large (12-13") nonstick sauté pan until glistening. Then, reduce heat to low, add shallots, and sauté until soft, translucent, and lightly caramelized, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, anchovies, and red chili pepper flakes (if using), and cook for another minute, or until garlic is fragrant and golden, and anchovies have melted. Deglaze with Malbec (or other non-oaky, dark, full-bodied red wine) and reduce liquid to a quarter of its original volume, about 3 more minutes. Then,, add the diced, vine-ripened tomatoes (including juices) and the roasted red peppers, and cook for another 5 minutes. (If, at any time during the cooking process, you find that the sauce is cooking down too fast, reduce the heat and add more water, as necessary.) Then stir in the tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and olives, and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with black pepper. Stir in the oregano, thyme, and marjoram, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley and black pepper. Set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes.

While the sauce is cooling, make the pasta: Bring a large pot of (6 c.) lightly salted water season with a few drops of olive oil to a rolling boil, about 8 minutes. Add spaghetti and cook according to package instructions, until al dente, (about 10-11 minutes for Barilla Plus spaghetti). Drain pasta into a colander, rinse with cold water, and drain once more, shaking off any excess water. Divide pasta into equal portions and transfer to plates or bowls. Pour sauce over each serving of pasta. Garnish with parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and serve immediately. (Or, alternatively, you add the whole amount of pasta back to the pot, toss with the sauce, and then transfer to plates/bowls.)

Yield: 2 servings.

Chef's Notes: The ingredients of this recipe are naturally salty-tasting enough as is, so no additional salt is needed.

Variations: If you'd like, garnish the pasta with a few handfuls of fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces. To make this recipe vegetarian, simply omit the anchovies; and then to make it vegan, of course omit the cheese as well, or use a dairy-cheese substitute like soy cheese, etc.


Mandy said...

Yes! I love spicy and zesty pasta dishes. I have yet to make a Puttanesca sauce and I can just imagine how wonderful this recipe must taste with such beautiful strong flavors: capers, anchovies, sun dried tomatoes and my all time favorite is cooking with wine!

Cyberpenguin said...

Thank you, Mandy! I love your enthusiasm. :-D Since you like bold flavors, it sounds like puttanesca is the perfect sauce for you!

Farida said...

This great Spagetti recipe. Your writing recipe is very details, that make me easier to cook it. Thanks so much for your share.


Cyberpenguin said...

Thank you, Farida! I sincerely appreciate you saying that. I try my best to clarify various cooking techniques as much as possible, in order to make it easier for people to prepare the recipes. :)

Kathy Mercure said...

Pasta Puttanesca is one of my favourites and I've been making it for years (its origins make for a great story for those who haven't had it before). Like you, I always add a splash of wine, but have never added onions or anchovies. I will try anchovies next time for sure. Thanks!

I've also made Veracruz fish and seafoods before, and now you've made me think about maybe instead of making the pasta the main part of the meal, why not add white fish over a smaller portion of pasta with the sauce on top?! Mmmmm!

Cyberpenguin said...

Hi Kathy,

Yes, that's true. It's a very entertaining story. :)

So, I see you've also discovered the secret to making delicious, tomato-based sauces: Red wine. :)

There are so many different version of puttanesca. It's fun to experiment. Do you also make yours with roasted red peppers as well?

Also, I use shallots for the puttanesca, not onions, because the flavor is much milder, and there's a lot of strong flavors going on in this dish as is. ;)

Agreed. Veracruz is great with fish and seafood! :-D

Hope you enjoy making this recipe!

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