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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Revisiting a Classic

I've been eating Penne alla Puttanesca in restaurants for years.  I've also been making what I thought was Penne alla Puttanesca at home for just as long.  The interesting thing about my homemade version is that I never used a recipe.  I just made a basic marinara sauce and threw in some olives and some capers and called it Puttanesca.  Let me tell you something.   I found out today, olives and capers do not a Puttanesca make.

Ted was in Washington, D.C. visiting his parents over the weekend and I needed to have a dinner I could just whip up when he got home.  I didn't want to start with something too complicated.   It was Sunday night after all, and I wasn't into the whole dinner production.  Pasta seemed like the perfect idea.

A few months ago I got Mario Batali's Molto Gusto cookbook.  There's a whole section featuring all those pasta dishes that seem so simple to make.  And they are.  You just have to know how to do it the right way to get the really delicious results that made those dishes so popular.  Time for a lesson in how to make Penne alla Puttanesca.

I have to admit, I did take a little shortcut.  Mario calls for soaking the capers in water overnight.  Since I didn't decide to make this dish until an hour before I did it, I cut the soaking time way down.  I love the saltiness of the capers anyway and I don't think it adversely effected the outcome.  Otherwise, I followed the recipe and the outcome was molto bene!

Recipe: Penne alla Puttanesca
(Molto Gusto, 2010)

*Note:  I only soaked the capers for about an hour and I used pitted Kalamata olives instead of the Gaeta olives.


8 to 10 salt-packed anchovy fillets
Kosher salt
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups Pomi strained tomatoes, simmered until reduced by half
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes
1 pound penne
2 tablespoons salt packed capers, rinsed and soaked overnight in cold water (change the water frequently) (*see note)
1/3 cup pitted Gaeta olives, coarsely chopped (* see note)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano for serving

Put the anchovies in a small bowl and set it in the sink under a stream of cold running water for about 2 minutes.  Drain the anchovies, pat dry, and coarsely chop them.

Bring 6 quarts if water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons kosher salt.

Meanwhile, combine the oil, red onion, garlic, and anchovies and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the onion is lightly browned and the anchovies have broken down, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook until just al dente.  Drain, reserving 3/4 cup of the pasta water.

Add the pasta and the reserved pasta water to the tomato mixture and stir and toss over medium heat until the pasta is well coated.  Stir in the capers, olives, and parsley and serve immediately, with grated Parmigiano on the side.

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