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Pasta Puttanesca

Okay, so i just made Pasta Puttanesca according to Jamie Oliver's recipe on FoodTV.com. I found it much too fishy and maybe this was because of the anchovies i used but it lacks the richness i like in good anchovies (guess it was the little hairy things). Anyway, I added some Blackstrap Molasses to it and man, oh yeah. It mellowed the dish out and gave it a real earthiness and complexity. Just a suggestion, I look forward to adding it to a few other tomato sauce dishes.

You can find the original recipe here:


but regardless, i would go with fewer anchovies the next time, and i like anchovies.

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  1. 12 anchovies really sounds like a lot, even if you do like them. To me the best way to balance these three very strong elements is to use the rule of halfs: start with your olives (maybe 3/4 cup per pound of pasta), go with half the volume for the capers, and half the volume again for the anchovies (loosely packed, maybe 6-8). You will get a very strong anchovy presence, but the other items will shine through on their own.

    1. I agree that it seems like a lot of anchovies, but it also made me think of older recipes and I wonder how much protein was available to poor, coastal towns in Italy (or similar places) back in the day? Today we expect any market we enter to have scores of protein sources, but 200 years ago, you could only pretty much eat what was locally available. The Anchovy might have been the chicken, beef, lamb and ham of the sea.

      1 Reply
      1. re: tastyjon

        true, true but i think I'll cut the number of anchovies in half and have a glass of milk

      2. Rather than open a whole can of anchovies for the few that putanesca needs ( and eat the rest), I use a few squirts of Thai fish sauce to control the saltiness.

        1. Strange that Mario Batali uses NO anchovies in this Puttanesca recipe on Food Network's web site:


          2 Replies
          1. re: Norm Man

            i noticed that as well which is why i used another recipe. However, if Mario was doing it, then it was probably the "right" way.

            1. re: Norm Man

              Interestingly, lookin in Mario Batali's book,


              he does use 8-10 salted anchovies, and breaks them down in the cooking process.

            2. I add add both mushrooms and parsley and if available chopped fresh plum tomato and torn basil..... cuts down saltiness with out compromising flavor.My family would also have "modega"(sp?)(sauted flavored bread crumbs)to sprinkle on top.But you need the anchovies.I sometimes add Pecorino Romano

              1. Between Jamie Oliver's recipe and Mario Batali’s, Oliver’s appears the more “authentic” of the two. There is no right or wrong way, but in Oliver’s recipe the use of 12 anchovies should probably be cut down to 2 or 3 (and these should be pulverized). The fish should be first sautéed with the garlic in oil to bring out the flavor (if you wish to add red chili, this is also the time to do so). The other ingredients should be added into this “enhanced” oil, finally the tomatoes.

                I will not go into the origins of Puttanesca only to say that it should be quite flavorful and prepared within as much time as it takes to cook the dry pasta 10-15 minutes. In that Batali marinates his ingredients for 1/2 hour then tosses them with the pasta, well, it’s not a true Puttanesca. The eggplant I’ve never seen as well, (it’s bland and adds nothing to the sauce.)

                The addition of molasses in your recipe is an interesting twist, I bet it tasted very good.

                1. Bewley, I agree 120% with you. 12 anchovies are way too many. As for the hairy bits....anchovies paste is always a good substitute. A very nice twist to whatever recipe you want to follow is to use toasted breadcrumbs as a garnish.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: dario.barbone

                    Anchovy paste is a good deal easier to work with, and to my taste there's no flavor penalty at all. I've never been able to bone those things worth a damn, so even if there were a difference in taste I'd probably go for the paste anyway.

                  2. Keep in mind that the early recipes wouldn't have used anchovies the way we think of them, as thin strips packed in salt, but fresh anchovies right out of the Mediterranean, simply filleted and spinkled witih a little salt to firm up the flesh - a far less assertive flavor. Even today, in Naples, where the sauce originates, the pre-packed anchovies used in the dish are generally olive-oil packed rather than salt-cured.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Casa SaltShaker

                      I believe the origin of the dish is Roman, but it's a simple dish that hardly needs to be associated with a particular place. The whole point of puttanesca, as bewley rightly pinpointed, is that it is quick-cooking. The name comes from puttana, prostitute, and its origin supposedly lies in the fact that it is easy and quick to throw together between clients. Marinating is ridiculous. The link to Oliver's recipe didn’t work, but if he's giving a recipe for a pound of pasta, 12 anchovies is a ridiculous amount too. Likewise, fresh anchovies would never have been used in this dish. They are a completely different taste. The main reason people use oil-packed instead of salt-packed anchovies is work. The oil-packed began as salt-cured but were cleaned and put up in oil so they can be used immediately. It is exactly the same thing if you buy the salt-packed fish and clean them up and put them in oil yourself at home. At for boning, the only bone that gets removed is the spine. If you buy fillets, you are supposed to eat those teeny tiny bones. They're very good for you.
                      Normal puttanesca, as made in Rome, contains maybe 3 anchovy fillets for two portions, disintegrated in olive oil over medium-low heat. A crushed garlic clove and a piece of hot red pepper cook along with the anchovy then get discarded. At that point you add some form of tomato and let it simmer while the pasta cooks. At the end, add some olives and capers (I use good-quality olive paste for reasons of both flavor and speed), then add the spaghetti to the sauce and toss briefly over low heat. No cheese, no breadcrumbs (the word for that is mollica, though there are dialect variations).
                      When you start to add rich or labor-intensive ingredients, or anything difficult to handle on a street corner, the dish has lost its identity as the working girl's fast food.

                      1. re: mbfant

                        Some years ago, my Italian friends (I'm American) rather bashfully indicated a different origin for the naming of the sauce as puttanesca, and their angle makes anchovies essential.

                        Like my Italian friends, I'll try not to be too indelicate: the idea is that anchovies impart a smell akin to that clinging to a client after a visit to a prostitute!

                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          That hath the, um, odor of authenticity. Makes the "quick snack between assignations" explanation (given by Jack Denton Scott in his first book on pasta) look a tad lame. But then this book was written I believe shortly after WW2.

                    2. A dollop of bought Tapenade can really help. I know it only contains ingredients which are already in the sauce, but it somehow adds richness and depth.

                      1. My Aunt lives near Genoa and she taught me her version - it's essentially the same as Jamie's (with only 2 or 3 anchovies) but has half a tin of tuna in there, and when the tomatoes go in after the fish and herbs are fried off, a half glass of white wine goes in too and gets cooked off with the tomatoes. It totally transforms the dish in my opinion.

                        As said above - Puttanseca is very much an idea rather than a totally specific dish

                        1. I always drain the oil off of the anchovies (just pull the tab back a little bit so the anchovies stay in can) and cook the drained anchovies in the pan with some finely chopped garlic to make a paste before adding any of the other ingredients to the pan.

                          I also rinse the olives and capers in a colander with small holes, or wire strainer, under cold water for a few seconds to remove some of the excess salt. Additional tomatoes (often 2 large cans), a few tabs of butter, and a teaspoon or so of sugar also cut the saltiness. This puttanesca recipe is a family favorite!!!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sarasan

                            With the caveat that this is in no shape or form an "authentic" Italian dish, this recipe from the NY TImes does use a few items that are in season now in the NE USA. Might be of interest to someone.