Fast and Fresh Puttanesca Sauce for Pasta

You might have tomatoes ripening on a window sill, a genuine possibility in parts of Maine that have seen a frost. Mine are still ripening in the hoop house, and Toby and I picked them clean yesterday though it has been chilly enough overnight that I suspect they wish I would knit them sweaters. I also found several fine, thick-walled red peppers. The combination reminded me of puttanesca sauce a favorite with pasta that goes together in a flash.

There are two other ingredients—capers and black olives— that you have to have that perhaps not everyone has on hand, but which I personally consider essential in my pantry. I use Kalamata olives, and try to get them pitted though it is easy enough to remove pits by smacking the olives with the side of a big knife and picking them out. Compared to the rich saltiness of Kalamata or a similar black olives, those awful sliced, totally black, flavorless things that come in cans are odious. I buy capers in large jars at wholesale stores. You’ll go broke if you buy those skinny little jars in grocery stores. There is something about capers that take a savory dish to a new level, and it is always worth having them on hand.

Not every puttanesca sauce has red peppers, and I decided against onions this time, though that is a possibility. I doubled up on garlic. I use oregano though basil is a choice as well. Canned tomatoes are perfectly acceptable and is what I use in the dead of winter. Round the recipe to as near to two cups as you can get (15 or 13 ounce can). The tomato I had this time was a big old Amish paste weighing about two pounds. It was so big I ended up not using all of it because it would have overwhelmed the other ingredients.
Most of the time puttanesca sauce calls for anchovies though a shot of anchovy paste is acceptable. I suspect a dab of tuna would work, but for me this sauce tends to be an all vegetable dish.

I put the puttanesca on fettucine but penne, spaghetti, what-have-you, is just fine. Top with parmesan. Play with this recipe. Halve it to make one serving. You will spend most of your time on the chopping and dicing. If you spend more than twenty minutes, you are taking too long.

By the way, on Saturday October 13, from noon to two o’clock at the Bangor Grange on Ohio St., Bangor daily News, Downeast Publishing and I are hosting a celebration of my new cookbook Maine Home Cooking. Please come, bring a potluck lunch item to share (and maybe the recipe), and meet the other readers of Taste Buds. My book is based on the recipes that have appeared in this column over the past few years, and I would love an opportunity to recognize and thank you, the contributors. The book will be there for sale and I will sign. Plus I will bring my personal copy of the book and gather your autographs in it. I would be so delighted to meet you all. See you Saturday!

Puttanesca Sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of black olives, chopped
3 tablespoons capers
3 fresh plum tomatoes or 2 cups of canned tomatoes, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a saucepan, and sauté the pepper and onions until they are barely soft. Add the garlic, olives, capers, and cook them for about three minutes. Then add the tomatoes and cook until they are softened, if fresh, or heated through if canned. Add salt, pepper, a sprinkle of oregano and basil, stir together, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve on hot pasta.
Makes two to three servings.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.