What Is Puttanesca Sauce? Spaghetti alla Puttanesca is an Italian pasta dish that chefs make using olive oil, anchovies, tomatoes, garlic, olives and capers with spaghetti or vermicelli pasta. It has found a huge amount of connoisseurs throughout the world of Italian cuisine-lovers across the globe. Let’s learn more about its history and origins.
The Origins of Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
There are a lot of cookbooks in Italy that describe various other pasta sauces similar in making to the modern Puttanesca serving. All these records date back as early as the 19th century, naming these dishes with different terms.
One such reference goes back to Ippolito Cavalcanti’s book Cucina teorico-pratica from the year 1844, which mentions a very famous cuisine of Naples from that time called the Vermicelli all-oglio con capperi ed alici salse.
There are several other Neapolitan recipe books too that mention this dish eerily similar to the modern Puttanesca, particularly the Guida gastronomica d’Italia from Touring Club Italiano. Despite the striking similarity between the Puttanesca version and that recipe, this cookbook terms it as “Maccheroni alla marinara.”
History of its Name
Puttana is one of the most popular slang words in the Spanish-speaking countries that roughly translates to “prostitute.” Puttanesca, the name of the dish, is an adjective used to define the word mentioned earlier, indicating that the dish was invented in one of Naples’ bordellos or brothels in Quartieri Spagnoli.
Some other food historians like Jeremy Parzen argue that the name of this dish has got more to do with the way people use this profanity and not its literal meaning, suggesting that it denotes something being common, just like the English-speaking countries use the F word.
Some of the earliest mentions of Puttanesca occur in some culinary literatures, cookbooks and gastronomical articles published in the 60s. Pasta alla Puttanesca records one of its oldest direct mentions from Ferito a Morte by Raffaele La Capria.
It’s an Italian novel published in 1961 that denotes Spaghetti ala Puttanesca ‘like they prepare it in Syracuse’.
One of the most prominent Italian cookbooks called Cucchiaio d’argento, mentions nothing with a similar name in its 1971 edition but denotes two recipes that are eerily similar, one of them is Neapolitan spaghetti alla partenopea and the other is spaghetti alla siciliana both distinguished from one another with slight ingredient variation.
Another article from Il Golfo, an Italian daily for Ischia and Procida, stressed that sugo alla puttanesca’s original inventor was Sandro Petti, one of the most famous chefs from a well-known restaurant in Ischia.
According to this source, Petti came up with the idea when he was closing the restaurant one evening and found a few customers at one of the tables.
Because of being low on ingredients, he couldn’t make up a meal but they insisted that they were all very hungry and could eat whatever he made up, allowing Petti to come up with the sauce for this famous dish using the two tomatoes, a couple of olives and capers he had at his disposal.