Bold and comforting in the best way, puttanesca sauce is made of simple pantry staples including canned tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, olives and capers. Throw in some spaghetti for the perfect pasta puttanesca any night of the week!

pasta puttanesca in a large saucepan

What is puttanesca?

Sugo alla puttanesca (or puttanesca sauce) is a Neapolitan pasta sauce dating back to the early 20th century, made with pantry staples like tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, olives and/or capers.

The word “puttanesca” literally translates to, “in the style of the prostitute,” pointing to one of the theories of how this tangy sauce was invented by prostitutes to entice and lure potential clients in with its bold aroma. Tell me, are you blushing? Others think it was created by a chef who, for lack of fresh ingredients, was able to design this comforting dish with a handful of pantry items he had on hand.

tomato-based puttanesca sauce with olives and fresh herbs

What’s so special about puttanesca sauce?

While I love the added briny flavors from kalamata olives and capers in this tomato-based pasta sauce, I consider anchovies to be the secret ingredient in puttanesca – and the one that distinguishes it from any other red sauce you may be familiar with.

To make puttanesca sauce, you’ll start by warming some anchovies (anywhere from 4 to 8 fillets) in a bit of extra virgin olive oil. The anchovies melt in the oil to infuse the sauce with deep umami flavor. The sauce won’t necessarily taste too strong or fishy, and you can start with less anchovy fillets if you’re unsure. Four fillets add plenty of umami while still being quite subtle. But if you want the full effect, go for eight anchovy fillets to truly turn the volume up on this bold tomato sauce.

Ingredients for puttanesca sauce:

Puttanesca can be made entirely with pantry items you may already have on hand. Here is what you need to make it:

  • Extra virgin olive oil – For this classic Italian recipe, our Nocellara Italian EVOO is the ideal choice! This medium intensity oil has aromas of freshly picked tomatoes, accenting the tomato-based puttanesca sauce perfectly.
  • Anchovy fillets – Use 4 to 8. Just 4 anchovies melt into the sauce and add layers of deep flavor, while 8 anchovies take the umami vibes to the next level! Adjust the amount based on your taste.
  • Red pepper flakes – This is optional, but I don’t recommend skipping it! You’ll add just a teaspoon, which adds a subtle spiciness without knocking your socks off.  
  • Fresh garlic – Mince 4 to 5 large cloves to infuse the olive oil with garlicky goodness.
  • Canned whole San Marzano tomatoes – 1 28-ounce can of good San Marzano tomatoes, which are known for their sweetness and mild acidity.
  • Pitted kalamata olives, sliced – Olives add brininess to the puttanesca sauce. You can also use black olives.
  • Capers – Capers work with kalamata olives to add more flavor and tang.
  • Dried oregano – For pungent earthiness.
  • Fresh parsley – A generous ½ cup of chopped parsley is the finishing touch to add color and bright flavor.
close-up of pasta puttanesca

What kind of pasta to use?

A popular pasta choice for pasta puttanesca is spaghetti, and that is what I used in this recipe – in fact, common names for this dish are spaghetti alla puttanesca or spaghetti puttanesca.

However, any long, thin noodle will do (like linguine, vermicelli, and bucatini). I’ve also seen recipes that use penne with good results!

How to make pasta puttanesca

In around 30 minutes, you can have a delicious pasta dinner bursting with tang and umami. Here’s how to make it (printer-friendly version below):

  • Make the puttanesca sauce. Over medium heat, warm around ¼ cup good extra virgin olive oil in a large, deep pan. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes and 4 to 8 anchovy fillets.

    Don’t skip the anchovies! They’re truly the secret to a tantalizing puttanesca. Your sauce will not taste fishy, trust me! Cook the pepper flakes and anchovies for around 2 minutes, tossing so that the anchovies begin to melt into the oil.

    Add 4 to 5 cloves minced garlic and cook until fragrant (around 30 seconds). Then, add 1 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes with their juices, ¼ cup pitted kalamata olives that have been sliced, 1 ½ tablespoons capers, and 2 teaspoons dried oregano. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes a little, and allow the sauce mixture to start to simmer.

    Once simmering, lower the heat and cover the pan partly. Allow to cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until thick enough for your preference.

    tomato-based puttanesca sauce with olives and fresh herbs
  • Cook the pasta. While the sauce is cooking, cook ¾ pound spaghetti (or long, thin pasta of your choice) in a pot of water until al dente. Save about a cup of starchy pasta water before draining. Similar to many other pasta sauce recipes here on the site, like my lemon pasta sauce, pasta cooking water is a key ingredient for a silky sauce!

    spaghetti in a colander
  • Combine the pasta sauce and spaghetti. Add the cooked pasta to the tomato sauce and toss well. If you like, you can add a little pasta cooking liquid to help the sauce emulsify and cling to the spaghetti. Start with a ¼ cup. Because of the salty ingredients in pasta puttanesca, you may not need to add any additional salt. But taste the sauce and add some kosher salt if necessary. Top with olives and capers, and garnish with ½ cup chopped fresh parsley. Serve and enjoy!

    spaghetti puttanesca in a saucepan

Tuna or chicken puttanesca

Not necessarily traditional, but chicken and tuna are some popular additions to puttanesca. Personally, I prefer my puttanesca sauce without any extra bells and whistles: It’s perfectly complex and filling enough for me!

But if you must have some meaty flavor, this is a great opportunity to use up any leftover chicken you may have. Simply shred it directly into the cooked sauce. Or, if you’ve noticed cans of tuna lurking in the dark corners of your pantry, drain a can and add it to the sauce. Let the chicken or tuna simmer in the sauce for a couple minutes.

Make-ahead tips

You can prepare puttanesca sauce one or two nights ahead of time and store it in the fridge in a tight-lid glass jar. When you're ready, warm up the sauce over medium heat and cook some spaghetti, then toss the cooked pasta in the sauce for a quick spaghetti puttanesca.

What to serve with pasta puttanesca

Pasta puttanesca is an enticing, filling meal all on its own, and doesn’t really need a side. Garlic bread is never a bad start to this comforting meal, and for me, I like to add a big salad such as Panzanella salad,  arugula salad, or Mediterranean bean salad.

spaghetti puttanesca in a pan

How to store spaghetti puttanesca leftovers

For best flavor and texture of the pasta, only mix enough pasta and sauce that can be eaten in one sitting. Leftover puttanesca sauce can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days.

To reheat, transfer the sauce to a pan on the stove and warm over medium heat. If the sauce looks dry, add a little water to help loosen it. Make a fresh batch of pasta and serve.

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5 from 28 votes

Easy Pasta Puttanesca Recipe

Suzy Karadsheh
pasta puttanesca in a large saucepan
Bold and comforting in the best way, puttanesca sauce takes a few pantry staples including: canned tomatoes, garlic, olives, capers, and anchovies. Spaghetti is a popular choice for pasta puttanesca (and it's what I used in this recipe), but any long, thin pasta would work -- like linguine or vermicelli. Serve with a big salad like Panzanella salad,  arugula salad, or Mediterranean bean salad.
Prep – 2 mins
Cook – 23 mins
Cuisine:
Italian
Serves – 6 people, up to
Course:
Entree

Ingredients
  

  • ¾ pound thin spaghetti
  • Kosher salt

For the sauce

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, I often use Italian Nocellara EVOO for this one
  • 4 to 8 anchovy fillets, use to your liking
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
  • 4 to 5 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28- ounce can whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 2 teaspoons dry oregano
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ cup chopped parsley

Instructions
 

  • In a large, deep pan, heat a good ¼ cup or so extra virgin olive oil. Warm the oil over medium heat and add the anchovy fillets and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 2 minutes or so, tossing the anchovies around (they will somewhat melt into the oil infusing it with flavor).
  • Add the garlic and cook for a brief 30 seconds until fragrant, then add the tomatoes, ½ of the olives and capers, and the dried oregano. Bring the mixture to a simmer, while using your cooking utensil to break up the tomatoes.
  • Lower the heat and cover the pan part-way. Allow the sauce to cook for a good 20 to 30 minutes or until thickened to your liking.
  • While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta in boiling salted water to al dente, according to package instructions (mine took about 9 minutes).
  • When the pasta is ready, transfer it to the pan with the sauce and toss well. If you need to, add a little of the pasta cooking water. Taste and adjust the salt, if needed.
  • Garnish with the remaining olives and capers and fresh parsley. Serve!

Video

Notes

  • What pasta to use: I used spaghetti, but any long, thin pasta (like vermicelli, linguine, or bucatini) would work. Some recipes also use penne!
  • Tuna or chicken puttanesca: If you like, you can add some cooked shredded chicken or drained canned tuna to the sauce. Allow it to simmer in the sauce for a few minutes.
  • Serve it with a big salad like Panzanella salad,  arugula salad, or Mediterranean bean salad.
  • Leftovers and storage: Mix only enough pasta and puttanesca sauce that can be eaten in one sitting. Store the leftover sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for 4 to 5 days. Reheat on the stove over medium heat. Serve with a new batch of cooked pasta. 
  • Visit our shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients, including extra virgin olive oils (like our Nocellara Italian EVOO).

Nutrition

Calories: 343.5kcalCarbohydrates: 50gProtein: 9.8gFat: 12.2gSaturated Fat: 1.7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1.6gMonounsaturated Fat: 8.1gCholesterol: 2.3mgSodium: 592.4mgPotassium: 455.6mgFiber: 4.3gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 742.7IUVitamin C: 20.2mgCalcium: 90.4mgIron: 3mg
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I'm Suzy; born and bred right on the shores of the Mediterranean. I'm all about easy, healthy recipes with big Mediterranean flavors. Three values guide my cooking: eat with the seasons; use whole foods; and above all, share! So happy you're here...
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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Aloha Suzy!!!
    Just wanna send you a message in regards to your pasta puttanesca.
    This has been the best pasta recipe ever!
    My wife and I just love pasta, and this puttannesca has been a game changer for us. We love the spice and flavor that pasta has.
    We also love your other dishes that you share with us all!

    Mahalo for sharing your passion and love of food!

  2. 5 stars
    WOW!! One of my favourite recipes now. Didn't put olives in but put a can of tuna in, served with linguine. Perfect, I was looking for seconds!!

  3. 5 stars
    This recipe couldn’t be easier or more delicious. Definitely a keeper! The only change I made was adding 1/3 cup vodka to degrade the pan prior to adding the tomatoes.

  4. 5 stars
    My husband loves Puttanesca so we tried this a couple of nights ago and will never make it any other way again! The only change we made was to use fusilli instead of spaghetti (he insists it holds all the yumminess better!) Thank you for always providing delicious recipies!

  5. 5 stars
    Suzy this is my favorite pasta sauce ever! It’s lighter and more flavorful than other red sauces. Absolutely love it! Thanks!!

  6. 5 stars
    This recipe looked so delicious. I just had to try it. Fortunately, I had all of the ingredients in my pantry, including our own canned whole San Marzano tomatoes. And yes, anchovies too!
    This was so straightforward and easy to make. It was the lovielest pasta sauce I've ever encountered in my 76 years!
    It is truly a keeper. Thanks, Suzy!

  7. 5 stars
    I cannot wait to try this!! In trying to serve it lower carb (husband is diabetic) how could I get it to stick to zoodles? ‘Thank you for your recipes!!

    1. Hi, Emily. I've never cooked with zoodles, so I'm not 100% sure here. Hopefully someone else can chime in with there experience.

    2. 5 stars
      Hi, Emily! My husband does Keto, so I use zoodles PLENTY! In Suzy's recipe, she adds the pasta to the sauce. When I make this for my husband (his favorite ratio is actually a combination of about 1/4 cup cooked angel hair to 1 full zucchini "zoodled" - he says just that little bit of angel hair fools his mouth!), I do NOT put the zucchini in the sauce; the zoodles get mushy and they leak too much liquid into the overall sauce.

      I spiralize the zucchini, using scissors to snip through every few inches, so it's easier to twirl on a fork, and I use a small-spiral cutting blade, so the zoodles are narrower. In the bowl I prepare for him, I add the hot angel hair on top of the zoodles. THEN, I add the hot sauce on top of that, and stir to coat in the bowl, maybe add some Italian cheese blend on top. The heat from the small amount of hot angel hair (again, like just 1/4 cup cooked, almost nothing), plus the heat of the sauce will wilt the zucchini just enough to make it "twirl-able" without turning the zoodles to mush or adding too much moisture from the zucchini back into the rest of the sauce.

      It's a favorite in this household - but the basic technique with the zoodles works with any sauce; use a narrow cutting blade, add the hot sauce to the zoodles in the serving bowl, and stir. The heat from the sauce wilts the zucchini enough to feel like eating actual pasta, but it's not mushy, and you don't dilute your sauce with the zucchini releasing liquid. We eat "pasta" every week, from marinara, Bolognese, and puttanesca, to Alfredo and carbonara. Works like a charm! 🙂 GOOD LUCK!

    3. 5 stars
      Sorry, Emily - this is a PS.

      I don't know how long you've been using vegetable "noodles." I went from a handheld spiralizer, to a counter-mounted one, to sucking it up and buying the attachment for my KitchenAid because the more I made them, the more my husband loved them and committed to them! The KitchenAid attachment is kinda cool because it has multiple blades that can do spirals in multiple thickness but also wide ribbons (think: egg noodle-waves) and also about 3" wide thin strips, which are perfect for making zucchini "lasagna" strips (and also work beautifully with the necks of butternut squash - we do a butternut squash lasagna with a browned-butter sage sauce that is dreamy!). I encourage you to really have fun with it!!!

      Suzy has SO MANY recipes on her site that are 100% adaptable to use with pasta noodles (or RICE!), and it's really fun to experiment! We've done more savory dishes with carrot or butternut squash noodles (like her red lentil curry recipe), used parsnips with her pastitsio recipe. I've also "riced" veggies either grating by hand or pulsing via a food processor, and subbed them in MANY of her recipes (again, get creative with the vegetable - it doesn't have to be cauliflower!!! lol). HINT: spritz a non-stick pan with a splash of olive oil and "toast" your veggie "rice" until it gets lightly browned and loses much of its moisture - it will have the most authentic rice texture (although DH still prefers even a tablespoon of regular sauteed rice stirred in when serving; he swears it "tricks the tongue" - whatever he thinks! *rolling eyes*). ENJOY!!!! Just because DH is Diabetic doesn't mean he cannot fully enjoy the wealth that Suzy's amazing website has to offer, and the incredible health benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle!

  8. 5 stars
    You go Girl ! You keep coming up with these quick, simple and delicious recipes. Appreciate the servings, calories and nutrition information you include. Your website is like a diamond in the rough without all the blah blah blah...Thanks !

  9. Suzy, can you substitute anchovy paste for the anchovy fillets? We often have part of a tube left over from a beef stew recipe we're fond of(also used for depth of flavor) and are looking for a way to use it up. Thanks! John

  10. Love all of your recipes...not only delicious, but helping me in my effort to eat healthier!
    Regarding this recipe, I do not have anchovies, but I do happen to have anchovy paste. A good substitute?

  11. 5 stars
    So I took a risk... I've never had anchovies before until I tried this. I'm now a convert! I really enjoyed this recipe. Also, I had to make it with gluten free spaghetti, and it turned great!