Monday, January 9, 2012

Ho-Ho, Ho

We here at Broke Not Poor Kitchens, the French-based gourmet cooking school for the 99%, are constantly looking for useful recipes, but sad to say, the chief cook and dishwasher has a real propensity for pasta. There's nothing wrong with that: there's hardly a dietary staple that's as versatile. But that also means that this is yet another pasta recipe.

Pasta Puttanesca, to be exact, sometimes rather euphemistically translated as "Harlot's Pasta." The hoary (sorry) legend behind it is that Roman prostitutes needed a hearty meal that could be prepared between assignations with clients. That may be as that may be, but more interesting to me is the suggestion that if this is true, most of Rome's prostitutes came from southern Italy: the breadcrumbs are a giveaway.

At any rate, this is a nice hearty winter dish, made quickly and easily, and from mostly cheap ingredients. I guess you didn't get rich whoring in Rome.

(Sorry about the color: the flash didn't go off.) What you need for a dish of this is, clockwise from the top, parsley, preferably flat-leaf Italian parsley; capers; tomato purée, which comes in a box in this part of the world, a dozen or so brine-cured black olives, two anchovies (four fillets if you're using oil-cured ones), some garlic, and two tablespoons of toasted bread crumbs. Oh, and olive oil, which somehow didn't make it into the picture. Dried red chiles are also an option, albeit one I didn't exercise the night I shot this.

You're going to have to pit the olives because I know you're too smart to buy crappy grey-tasting canned pre-pitted olives, right? You can do this with a sharp knife and some patience, or you can do what I did and buy a cheap cherry-pitter. Put the olive pointy-side up in the O there in the bottom and bring down the pitter. The pit plops out the bottom of the device and if your olives are good you'll have something that looks a lot like the crappy canned pitted ones only tastes like olives.

Put the olives, a tablespoon of drained capers, the anchovies, about four cloves of garlic (each clove cut into three or four pieces), and a generous amount of parsley leaves into a food processor. Oh, and put your pasta water on: this moves rather quickly. Process the ingredients until they look pretty well ground.

But wait, I hear you say. I recognize that food processor! It's the fancy Braun that also comes with a blender and a dough-maker! It costs $500 and is only available in Europe! And you're right. You can also do it with a cheaper one, but I didn't have one of these babies for a long time, and I did the chopping with a good sharp knife. It takes longer, but it gets you there.

Next thing to do is to toast your bread crumbs until they're golden. This can be a slightly hairy process, but you should use a dry frying pan and realize that you'll have pale bread crumbs until the moment you don't. Keep stirring them and keep in mind they can go from raw to burnt in seconds. If you're skillful, you'll come up with something like this:

You can also do this with a bit of olive oil, as I've seen in some southern Italian recipes. And you can not toast them at all, if you want. Up to you.

Now, you put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in your sauce pan and heat it over medium heat. When it's ready, toss in the mixture you've just ground up. This is also when you'd add your dried chiles or chile flakes, if you're using them.

Stir it around and don't let it burn. In a few minutes, it'll be fragrant, urging you to come add the next step. Pasta water boiling? It should be. Go toss in the pasta (penne rigate is what I've always used, although there are actually people who make this with spaghetti) and then put one cup of that tomato purée into the mix.

Stir it in, lower the heat, and let it cook for just as much time as your pasta takes to cook. (De Cecco, which I use when I can't find Voiello, takes 12 minutes for penne rigate). Again, stir it to keep it from burning (can you tell I have burned this recipe from time to time?).

Soon, your sauce will look like this.

On your way to drain the pasta, spill about a tablespoon of the pasta water into this so that it will adhere well to the pasta. Then, bring the drained pasta over, mix the pasta with the sauce, add the bread crumbs, and take it to the table.

Man, I just had lunch and simply looking at this makes me hungry again! Try to eat it slowly; it's got a lot of depth to appreciate. And that other recipe you found for it that uses tuna fish instead of anchovies? Toss it. Anchovies rock.


  1. Terrific. I can't wait to follow your recipe and prepare this. Anchovies do rock. Curtis

  2. That looks DELICIOUS. I want some for breakfast.

  3. d'accord with the anchovies, so underrated, and probably the main ingredient in the ancient Roman sauce known as Garum...

  4. You're using tomato coulis there. Tomato purée comes in little tins or a tube.

    Looks a great recipe although I'm not keen on olives.

  5. Sarah, not quite. You're referring to tomato paste. I'm writing this blog in English for (mostly) Americans, after all.

    And Anon, if you do eat it for breakfast, don't use the chiles.

  6. You got a vegetarian substitute for anchovies, Ed? Shoko would know pretty quick if I was using fish and it appears to be an essential ingredient.

  7. top quality italian tuna AND anchovies is the way i like it - one of my favorite dishes

  8. So do you put the tuna in along with the tomato purée? Certainly it's not part of the paste!

  9. Thanks for the history lesson on Pasta Puttanesca... it's always been one of my favorites and now I think I like it even more because it's a bit saucy! (pun intended).
    And I cook pasta about three times a week, so I like all the pasta posts.
    Happy 2012 to you Ed :-)


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