The Cheap-Ass Gourmet – Puttanesca

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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19 Responses

  1. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    Puttanesca appears to have been developed in Italy in the early twentieth century, and was known there as “whore’s pasta.” (I’ve been told that a more accurate 21st century translation would be “slut’s pasta.”)

    That’s just a fluke.Report

  2. Avatar zic says:

    Several years ago, I accompanied my sweetie on a business trip to Miami Beach. We were stuck on the hotel (thankfully on the beach) for several days. But one evening, there was a respite, and we went into Coconut Grove, deciding to follow our noses to a non-hotel meal.

    First thing out of the car was a most amazing aroma of bread baking and garlic goldening and basil; but no, we had to walk around sniffing everywhere before selecting. We wound up back at the car, at a small Italian restaurant where those smells had their cooking.

    I had puttanesca there that night; much as you’ve described above. To the very hot pasta, just before serving, they stirred in the fresh basil chiffonade, amazingly fresh mozzarella (so fresh it tore instead of sliced) and very cold, and at table, a sprinkling of parmasen. The memory of that hot pasta combined with the fresh basil and cold cheese is still outstanding.

    Basil chiffonade is a wonderful thing. When bruised or frosted, fresh basil blackens, and quickly. Chiffonade seems to deter the blackening, at least for a while, while properly bruising the basil to release its aromatic oils. And it’s ever so easy to make.

    First, on the selection and care of fresh basil: at market, select basil that looks fresh and green, no wilt, no black. Or grow some on your windowsill, patio, porch, or fire escape. Don’t refrigerate it. If the bunch isn’t in one of those dreaded plastic coffins they use for fresh herbs, but is a real bunch, trim the bottoms of the stems and stand it in some water (not covering any of the leaves, just the stem bottoms,) until you’re preparing to cook. When you put the water on, put the basil in a salad spinner or bowl of cold water, this will help refresh it and wash it. Change the water a few times if there’s any sand or dirt. Then spin it dry (or shake it out), and pick the big leaves off. Throw the small ones in your salad, if you’re having one, or in the puttanesca whole. Lay the big leaves one atop another, pointed ends in one direction, stem-ends the other. Just before serving, roll the pile of leaves up like a cigar, so that the vein down the center of the leaves lies perpendicular to the direction you’re rolling. Take a sharp knife, and slice the roll into thin slices, the thinner the better. And you have basil chiffonade for your pasta.

    And if you find the basil motherlode at your local farmer’s market or garden, save it for winter. Wash, as above, remove the leaves from the stems, and put them in your food processor. Drizzle just enough olive oil in it to make a smooth paste. Put this in an ice-cube tray, filling each cube about 2/3 full (they’ll expand in the freezer, and be difficult to get out if you fill them all the way), cover with a layer of plastic to seal, and freeze. Next day, remove them from the tray and store them in a heavy-duty freezer bag. A trick on defrosting: put a single cube (or two) in a small zip-lock bag, squeeze out as much air as possible, and put it in a bowl of cold water; place another bowl, pot lid or whatever on top to weight it down and submerge it. In about an hour, you’ll have that fresh basil paste ready to stir into a dish like puttanesca. For a longer-cooked sauce or soup, jut throw the cube in the pot.

    And please, if you’ve got a place where you get about 4 hours of sun a day, try growing your own. Water it often, pinch the tops back often (this makes it branch, and greatly increases your supply of basil,) and give it little compost tea once in a while; because plants like to eat, too.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Ugh:
      Just before serving, roll the pile of leaves up like a cigar, so that the vein down the center of the leaves lies perpendicular to the direction you’re rolling.

      This is wrong; migraine. Roll the leaves side to side, so that the vein goes from one end of the roll to the other; this is crucial to not having the basil blacken.Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      This was awesome, z.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        This place smelled so good I passed on the bounty of Cuban food Coconut Grove offers. I still wonder at this. Rare has been a restaurants pull on my nose.Report

  3. Avatar George Turner says:

    Would this go good with a pimp cocktail or a pimp juice cocktail (made with Pimp Juice energy drink and vodka)?Report

  4. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    I recall reading something here you did on puttanesca before, no?Report

  5. My understanding of the name is similar to your wife’s. (I have heard another explanation that is sufficiently unsavory as to preclude further description.)

    I love puttanesca. Love it. But the Better Half does not, and so I pretty much never make it.

    My version is super simple. Crush and mince a ton of garlic. Slice some kalamata olives and dice up some anchovies. Cook garlic as per your instructions. Add olive and anchovies, plus a liberal splash of red wine. Toss in a jar of capers. Cook about ten minutes.

    Enjoy.Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      Ooo, anchovies! How did I forget to list achovies? Anchovies are awesome in puttanesca.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      Except for the anchovies, I love this version — interesting, no tomatoes, or did you forget them? I like the no tomatoes variation.

      If you just can’t bear to leave the tomatoes out and those heirloom varieties are plentiful, a big one, a juicy one, diced and stirred in cold just before serving. Large black or yellow tomatoes slicing tomatoes (I’d actually be color squeamish about mixing them together) work nicely here.

      I have yet to find a suitable umami alternative to anchovies; I’m allergic.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      It would never even have occurred to me to make puttanesca without olives. Anchovies, now that’s a great addition. I already put anchovy in my bolognese.Report

  6. Avatar Chris says:

    My girlfriend makes spaghetti and penne alla puttanesca, but none of my Italian relatives do. I assume this is because they or their parents came over before puttanesca became popular in the 60s or 70s. Yours sounds good though. Can I come over?

    Also, “puttana” can mean “whore” or “prostitute” or any other name for women who have sex for money, but by the time this dish came about, it would have been a slur that has a pretty broad meaning, all related to women, but not necessarily to sex. It could still mean whore, it could mean slut, or it could be an Italian equivalent of “bitch” in English (my uncle, in his… weaker moments, has been known to call someone a “figlio di puttana”).Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      “Figlio di puttana” are fighting words.

      Your comment is revealing though: the Italians’ much-vaunted culinary canon is in fact dynamic, as dynamic as any other ethnic cuisine’s. Italians only ACT like their food has been around forever.Report

  7. Avatar Kazzy says:

    FWIW, Ronzoni’s line of “Smart Taste” pasta is much healthier than regular pasta but closer to the taste/texture/consistency than whole wheat. Perhaps there is some sort of voodoo magic or poisonous chemical they use to achieve this, but I use it in most of my dishes at this point. Worth checking out.Report