The Best Puttanesca Recipe You'll Ever Make

The Best Puttanesca Recipe You'll Ever Make

If you love a tomato pasta sauce that will wake up your palate, Puttanesca Pasta Sauce is it. Puttanesca is a classic Southern Italian pasta dish, and like all of Southern Italian cuisine, it is loaded with big, pungent, vibrant, bold and sometimes spicy flavors—depending on how many sprinkles of red pepper flakes you use! Every ingredient adds a little something to the final pasta sauce, from tangy olives and briny capers to the savory umami addition of anchovy fillets. The bright acidity of the tomatoes really brings it all together.

Pasta Puttanesca on stovetop

What Is Puttanesca (Sauce)?

Puttanesca, or Pasta Puttanesca, is a bold and garlicky Southern Italian pasta dish from Naples. This iconic pasta sauce features tomatoes, green or black olives, extra virgin olive oil, anchovy filets, capers, garlic and a long cut of pasta—traditionally spaghetti. Quick and easy to prepare, Puttanesca sauce is made with mostly pantry staples and just a few fresh herbs.

Pasta puttanesca completed dish topped with grated cheese

Why You’ll Love This Puttanesca Recipe

You’re going to love all the big, bold flavors captured in this traditional Southern Italian pasta sauce. Puttanesca Pasta features some of your favorite Italian ingredients: tangy tomatoes, garlic, briny capers, anchovies and tart olives. While this flavorful pasta sauce is a great quick and easy pasta recipe for anytime of the year, Puttanesca is the perfect pasta recipe for winter when fresh vegetables and ingredients are harder to come by. The ingredients used to create this iconic Puttanesca Pasta are all right from your cupboards! Puttanesca sauce is made entirely with pantry staples and a few herbs you probably already have on-hand, so there is no need for a grocery store trip to cook up this classic Italian pasta.

The Ingredients You Will Need To Make Puttanesca

Pasta: Traditionally Spaghetti is the cut of choice for this beloved pasta sauce. In fact, the dish is often called Spaghetti alla Puttanesca. If you switch it up, we still recommend a long cut of pasta like Bucatini or Capellini (we used Linguine). If all you have on hand is a short cut, go for it.

Olive Oil: A great extra virgin olive oil is the foundation of most amazing Italian pasta sauces, but for this olive and tomato pasta sauce, it is key. DeLallo Extra Virgin Olive Oil is fruity and slightly pepper, the perfect flavors to complement the bright and tangy tomatoes.

Garlic and herbs: In this pasta sauce recipe, fresh cloves of garlic are used to flavor the extra virgin olive oil. That garlicky oil is the base of your Puttanesca sauce.

Tomatoes: When you have a traditional Italian recipe of very few ingredients, every one of them counts. San Marzano tomatoes aren’t just hype. Their meaty texture and mild, slightly acidic flavor makes them the perfect tomato sauce.

Red Pepper Flakes: These are optional, but consider adding just a bit, even if you don’t like spicy foods. The subtle heat adds a depth of flavor to the final pasta sauce.

Anchovies: We consider anchovy fillets in this Puttanesca sauce the not-so-secret secret ingredient. Anchovies will just melt into the sauce and add a briny umami flavor that you just can’t get from anything else. The anchovies definitely set apart this tomato sauce from most other pasta sauces.

Olives: Truly you can use any olives you like, from punchy green olives to salty black olives. We recommend Calamata olives for their tangy, bright flavor.

Herbs: While dried oregano and basil are acceptable, there is nothing quite like the aroma of fresh herbs in a homemade pasta sauce.

Ingredients for pasta puttanesca

How To Make Puttanesca

1. Cook the pasta.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to the package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water for finishing sauce.

Hand stirring a pot of boiling pasta on a stove top

2. Flavor the oil.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on a medium-low setting. Add the anchovies and the garlic. Cook until fragrant.

Olive oil being drizzled into pan with ingredients for pasta puttanesca off to the side.
Minced garlic added to pan with olive oil
Anchovy fillets added to pan with garlic.

3. Add the tomatoes.

In a large bowl, use your hands or a fork to break apart the tomatoes. Turn up the heat to a medium-high setting and add them to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the tomatoes break down into a sauce.

Tomatoes added to pan
Salt and pepper added to pan
Tomatoes have begun breaking down forming a sauce

4. Flavor the sauce.

Stir in the olives, capers and red pepper flakes. Simmer together to marry the flavors.

Calamata olives added to pan
Capers added to sauce
red pepper flakes added to sauce
Sauce stirred to combine
Sauce simmering

5. Finish the sauce.

Add the pasta and some hot pasta cooking water to the pan. Serve sprinkled with fresh herbs.

Pasta added to sauce
All pasta added to sauce
Pasta and sauce combined
Finished dish, garnished with basil and grated cheese.

Best Pasta Cuts For Puttanesca

Puttanesca pasta sauce is traditionally served with spaghetti. In fact, it is named Spaghetti alla Puttanesca on many menus. Still, you can make Puttanesca with any type of pasta shape you like. We do recommend a long cut of pasta like Bucatini, Capellini or Linguine.

Top Tips

Don’t skip the anchovies. The flavors from this simple ingredient are so worth it. You might think you don’t like fish, but we promise your sauce will not taste “fishy.” Anchovies melt into the oil and give it an unmistakable briny, umami flavor.

Save that pasta cooking water. That hot and starchy pasta cooking water means everything to this Italian tomato sauce. We always recommend saving a cup, but sometimes all that is needed is a few spoonfuls. The starchiness of the water helps the sauce coat each noodle. In line with that thinking, do not rinse your noodles. You cool them down and remove the starchiness so that pasta sauce will not stick. If ever your sauce looks too watery or loose, simmer it for a few minutes to thicken it up.

You can prepare the Puttanesca sauce in advance for up to 2 days ahead of time. Just store it in an air-tight container and refrigerate. When you are ready to enjoy, warm up the sauce while you cook the spaghetti. Toss the warmed sauce and cooked pasta in the pan to marry flavors. The pasta cooking water will come in handy here.

Leftover Puttanesca Pasta can be refrigerated in an air-tight container and stored for up 3-4 days. Reheat on the stovetop, slowly at a low temperature to maintain its best texture and flavor. Add a splash of water to help loosen the sauce if it looks a bit dry.

Substitutions And Additions

Tuna Puttanesca. For a little more oomph, add some Italian-style tuna to your Puttanesca pasta sauce. The garlicky olive-and-tomato pasta sauce is perfect just the way it is, but a simple can of tuna really adds to the final Puttanesca pasta dish. Tuna gives your pasta a more hearty, filling presence. If you don’t like anchovies this may be a good substitute. Either way, try Tuna Puttanesca next time you whip up a pot of this irresistible Southern Italian gem.

Chicken Puttanesca. If you like a great chicken dinner recipe, this bold Puttanesca just might be the fun and flavor you need to shake up your weeknight routine. The addition of tender, dark meat chicken (we recommend thighs here) is a great way to make this heartier, more well rounded meal. Braise the chicken thighs first by cooking them right in the Puttanesca sauce. The chicken should be super tender and practically falling off the bone.

What To Serve With Puttanesca

Most Italian pasta recipes are complemented by a fresh garden salad and thick slices of garlic bread. Tomato sauces, in particular seafood and tomato sauces, really shine next to a bright lemony vinaigrette on your greens. For a starter, try a chunky tomato bruschetta appetizer and finish your Puttanesca meal off with a rich and decadent Tiramisu for dessert.

Puttanesca: FAQ

What Does Puttanesca Mean In Italian?

The word “puttanesca” comes from a word that we won’t say here, but refers to the working women of Naples in the mid-20th century. These working women were said to cook this pungent flavorful Puttanesca sauce to lure in their customers.

What Does Puttanesca Taste Like?

Puttanesca sauce is a tangy, slightly sweet garlicky tomato sauce with a unique bold and briny olive flavor. The spice level depends on how much red pepper flakes you use. Like most other Southern Italian dishes, Puttanesca is a punchy and full-flavored pasta sauce.

Why Is It Called Puttanesca?

Though there are many theories for how Puttanesca came to be, it is named after the word for the working women of Naples—a phrase we are using to be as graceful as possible. This olive tomato sauce with its bold, fragrant presence was said to entice the men into their quarters.

What Is The Difference Between Puttanesca And Marinara?

Marinara is a simple tomato sauce consisting of tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and herbs. Where Marinara is pretty tame, Puttanesca sauce is flavored with more pungent, punchy ingredients like olives, anchovies, capers and red pepper flakes.

What Is The Difference Between Puttanesca And Pomodoro?

Puttanesca is a fully developed and cooked pasta sauce featuring briny capers, bold olives, garlic and fresh herbs. Pomodoro sauce typically refers to a thick tomato sauce base that many recipes use as a foundational ingredient.

What Is The Difference Between Puttanesca And Arrabbiata?

Arrabbiata sauce is another Southern Italian pasta sauce with a bold and unforgettable flavor. Like Puttanesca, Arrabiata Sauce is made with tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and hot chili pepper flakes. The difference is in the olives and anchovies, which add another dimension to Puttanesca pasta sauce.

What Can I Use Instead Of Anchovy In Puttanesca?

There really is no perfect substitute for the anchovies in Puttanesca sauce, but you can use miso paste, fish sauce or even just a little extra salt. Some say seaweed makes for an excellent vegan substitute.

Can I Make This Dish Ahead Of Time?

If you would like to make Puttanesca in advance, we recommend making the sauce first. The sauce can be refrigerated or frozen and the pasta can be made fresh just before serving.

Pasta Puttanesca twirled on a fork

The Best Puttanesca Recipe You'll Ever Make



  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for al dente texture, according to the package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain.
  2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the anchovies and the garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and becomes lightly golden.
  3. Place tomatoes in a large bowl and crush with a fork or by hand. Add tomatoes to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium-high and simmer, stirring occasionally. Cook until tomatoes break down and become saucy, about 10-12 minutes.
  4. Stir in olives, capers and red pepper flakes. Continue to simmer for another 5-6 minutes.
  5. Add cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to combine. Stir in a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water to allow the sauce to coat the noodles. Stir in a little at a time, until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. Serve sprinkled with fresh herbs.
Print recipe button

Stay connected...
tag @delallofoods on Instagram to share your kitchen creations!

puttanesca, pasta puttanesca, puttanesca sauce, puttanesca recipe, authentic italian sauce recipe, recipe

You might also like...

Shop related products...

Shop related products...