Puttanesca sauce a fiery complement to pasta dishes and more

Use it as a vibrant ragout; ladle it over fish, such as swordfish or halibut; or use it as a bed for garlicky shrimp.

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Puttanesca sauce is salty, briny, spicy and vibrant, and a year-round kitchen staple. 

Puttanesca sauce is salty, briny, spicy and vibrant, and a year-round kitchen staple.

Lynda Balslev/TasteFood

Pasta puttanesca is a southern Italian dish that hails from Naples in the Campania region. Puttanesca refers to the potent tomato sauce that brims with black olives, red chiles, capers and anchovies. It’s safe to say that this dish is no shrinking violet, as this sauce is salty, briny, spicy and vibrant.

There’s no denying puttanesca sauce goes exceedingly well with pasta. It’s also a wonderful condiment that is more than a fiery addition to spaghetti. Use it as a vibrant ragout; ladle it over fish, such as swordfish or halibut; or use it as a bed for garlicky shrimp. Dollop it on grilled steak and chicken, or add a drizzle to eggs. Even a smear on crostini will stand in for an easy appetizer in a pinch.

You can count on this sauce as a year-round kitchen staple. While tomatoes at their peak of season are always a desirable ingredient, there’s no issue with using packaged grape or cherry tomatoes in the off-season. Just cook them down to a sludgy consistency and let the other ingredients deliver their wallop of flavors. This recipe does just that.

It takes inspiration from the traditional puttanesca sauce with a liberty or two—namely, an extra dash of sweetness to boost the flavor of supermarket tomatoes. A simple splash of balsamic vinegar and orange juice provides the extra kick. I encourage you to taste as you go and add these two ingredients in the end as needed.

Puttanesca Sauce

Yield: Makes about 1 1/2 cups

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup cured black olives, pitted, finely chopped
  • 1 to 2 anchovies, mashed
  • 1 tablespoon drained capers
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons fresh orange juice (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and cook until they break down, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the olives, anchovies, capers, oregano and black pepper and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Taste for seasoning—you may or may not need salt, due to the saltiness of the ingredients.

2. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and taste again. If too tart, add the orange juice. Remove from the heat and cool to allow the flavors to develop. Refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Lynda Balslev is an award-winning food and wine writer, cookbook author and recipe developer. She also authors the blog TasteFood, a compilation of more than 600 original recipes, photos and stories.

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