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. They're what distinguishes puttanesca 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. 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.

If you don't have cooked chicken or canned tuna on hand, you can also use puttanesca sauce as an extra-flavorful poaching liquid, as I do with my chicken puttanesca recipe.

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 68 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 minutes
Cook – 23 minutes
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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Comments

  1. Debbie says:

    Hi. Can I omit the anchovies? Thanks

    1. TMD Team says:

      Hi, Debbie. You can, but they do add nicely to the flavor here. If it's the texture your worried about, they really do sort of melt into the sauce, so they're pretty undetectable.

  2. Carrie says:

    5 stars
    Loooved the outcome of this recipe!! It turned out just like I remember it from my favorite local Italian restaurant (no longer there). I went for 8 anchovy fillets...not too much for me. I also opted for the red pepper flakes...spicy but delicious. The chefs at my beloved Italian restaurant added calamari...so I get the recommendation to add tuna...next time. Prep was more than 2 minutes for me (peeling, chopping, slicing and mincing) but well worth the effort.
    If you've never had Puttanesca sauce you will find this to be the real deal...it's like no other red sauce I've ever had and absolutely DELICIOUS!

    1. TMD Team says:

      Thanks for taking the time to leave such a lovely review, Carrie!

  3. R Fulmer says:

    5 stars
    Absolutely delicious!!! This recipe is on my regular recipe rotation for a reason. It’s SO good!

  4. Kevin says:

    5 stars
    Thanks for another great recipe with items in my pantry.

  5. Susana Mendoza says:

    5 stars
    This is the perfect rustic putanesca. It's easy and oh so satisfying. I've tried several others and this is the best.

  6. Rhea says:

    5 stars
    I’ve made this multiple times, and my husband and I both love it!

    1. TMD Team says:

      That's great, Rhea! Thank you!

    2. Abbi L says:

      5 stars
      This was absolutely delicious! I was reminiscing my trip to Italy 15 years ago and craving authentic Italian pasta. This was it. Thank you for this fabulous recipe!

      1. TMD Team says:

        Yay! We love hearing this. Thanks, Abbi!

  7. john says:

    i make the best puttanesca., but have never been really "lucky with it ." Nothng better than merlot/cab or an equal wine to accompny it along with aantipasto of my making . enjoy

  8. Mandee Perez says:

    5 stars
    I love this recipe! I have had this exactly as the recipe, I have had the recipe with chicken, and I have had this recipe with cod. I do add mushrooms, only because I love them.

  9. Laurie A says:

    5 stars
    This is fabulous and a go-to recipe year-round. I goose up the ingredient amounts to match a pound of pasta and use anchovy paste instead of anchovies because it's easier, but I'm true to the recipe. I love using bucatini or fileja pastas, but fettuccine and spaghetti work just fine. A little salad, a little bread and it's the perfect meal.

    1. TMD Team says:

      Thanks, Laurie!

  10. D K says:

    5 stars
    This is my favorite puttanesca recipe. Pasta Puttanesca is a dish I first ate in San Francisco in 1980. Made it many times, ordered in restaurants, but for a home cook this is easy and delicious. Making it again right now.

    1. TMD Team says:

      Yay! So glad to hear it!

  11. Sue Muto says:

    5 stars
    Easy and delicious. I will make this sauce often!

  12. Terri says:

    Trying this tonight. Is the nutritional info posted per serving or for whole dish? What serving size if per serving?

    1. TMD Team says:

      Hi, Terri. That info is per serving. The whole recipe can be divided by 6 to get the "serving size". The nutrition info here is our best effort and we use a program that calculates that for us based on the ingredient list. Unfortunately, the exact serving size measurement (by cups, etc) is another layer that's harder for us to precisely calculate at the moment.

      1. Terri says:

        Thank you! Was pretty sure it was a serving! Looking forward to trying this tonight !

  13. Daniel says:

    Hi.
    Can I use bucatini pasta?

    1. TMD Team says:

      Sure! That should work fine, Daniel.

  14. Cynthia Anderson says:

    I wanted to try this tonight but only have diced tomatoes on hand. Would those work?

    1. TMD Team says:

      Sure! Enjoy!

  15. Trixie B says:

    5 stars
    Love, love, love this sauce! I've made this sauce many times now and just made a double batch to put sauce away in the freezer.

    1. TMD Team says:

      Great idea! Thanks, Trixie!

  16. Gary says:

    5 stars
    Great recipe however I would add a splash of cognac, cook that off then and 1/2 cup of white wine before adding a tomato product....a tablespoon of grated parmesan ....and just before serving stir in a bit of heavy cream!..Violoa!!....Just my suggestion. There's an "Italian" restaurant near me and they have the nerve to call this recipe "Amatricana" which it is clearly not. Yours is real McCoy Suzy!

    PS...if you want some real authentic heat try adding just a "touch"of Calabrian chile paste instead of the dry.....either way.

    1. TMD Team says:

      Ooo! Thank you for the suggestions, Gary!