Pasta Puttanesca
Whore-y Pasta

Pasta Puttanesca roughly translates as “pasta in the style of a whore” — no doubt an enterprising whore who’s a little salty, a little spicy, and has plenty of bite to her. You may be wondering how this dish got its colorful name. Legend has it “ladies of the night” would lure customers into houses of ill repute with the enticing aroma of this sauce simmering away. Alternately, they would make this for themselves because it was a quick and easy meal that wouldn’t take much time away from their biznaz.

Quick, easy, cheap, delicious…qualities any busy working girl/harlot could appreciate. Pasta Puttanesca makes a great spur-of-the-moment meal because it can be thrown together using ingredients in your pantry.

Pasta Puttanesca pantry staples
Pantry staples

The dish is full of salt and brine — olives, capers, anchovies — flavors typical of Southern Italian cuisine. Canned Italian tuna soaked in olive oil plays well off of the anchovies and tomato sauce, and adds protein and body to the meal.

Pasta Puttanesca fresh ingredients
Fresh elements

I’ve thrown in some fresh touches to this Puttanesca, but in a pinch you could omit the eggplant, onion, garlic, or fresh herbs, and the essence of the dish would remain intact.

Chive blossoms
Chive blossoms

I would normally garnish this with fresh oregano or parsley, but a sly animal had just stolen the parsley from under my nose. Luckily, my mom’s garden had a lovely bunch of chive blossoms still intact. The faint oniony twang worked well with the other aromatics, and the tiny purple blossoms even accented the deep hue of the eggplant.

In no time, we had a steaming hearty bowl of pasta to dig into, full of vibrant, sassy flavors. Those ladies of the night were on to something when they came up with this. Who would’ve thought? Whore-y pasta: customer satisfaction, guaranteed.

Recipe: Pasta Puttanesca

A quick and easy pasta dish full of vibrant, sassy flavors (purportedly invented by “ladies of the night” who lured in customers with the scent of this simmering away).

Pasta Puttanesca

Prep time: 10 min
Cook time: 15 min
Total time: 25 min
Yield: 4 servings


  • 24 ounces tomato sauce
  • 16 ounces spaghetti or angel hair pasta
  • 5 ounces Italian tuna, packed in olive oil
  • 2 ounces anchovies, packed in olive oil
  • 1 eggplant, diced (and peeled if you prefer)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olives (green or Kalamata), roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • A handful of fresh oregano, parsley, or chives (finely chopped)


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta.
  2. Over medium heat, pour the olive oil from the tuna and anchovies into a large saucepan. Add the onion and sautee until translucent. Add the eggplant and garlic; sautee until the eggplant is softened and the onions begin to caramelize.
  3. Add the anchovies and stir until they have melted down. Add the tuna, breaking it into small chunks, and saute for another minute or so.
  4. Add the tomato sauce, olives, capers, sugar, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer. Serve over pasta and garnish with fresh herbs.

Culinary Tradition: Italian

Pasta Puttanesca 8 June,2011Stephanie Hua


Stephanie Hua

Stephanie Hua is the creator of Lick My Spoon, a place for all things delicious. So far she has learned that she very much enjoys salted caramel anything, a good soup dumpling is worth a scalded tongue, and there is no room in life for non-fat cheese and crappy chocolate. Also, a barrel of cheese balls never ends well.

Stephanie has been known to choose her company based on how much they can pack it down. Ability to endure cramped quarters, sketchy back alleys, and uncharted paths to seek out that special dish is also a plus in her book. If you fit the criteria, drop a note. You’ll probably get along just fine.

Stephanie’s writing and photography have been featured in Fodor’s Travel, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Serious Eats, and Sundance Channel. Follow her on Facebook and @lickmyspoon.

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