Thursday, April 23, 2015

Pasta Puttanesca

Long, long ago, I worked for a family company that had the bad habit of building its empire by buying similar family companies. Inevitably, we'd acquire one or two family members who were contractually obligated to get a paycheck, but who weren't terribly motivated to work for that paycheck.

Those new pseudo-employees were shuffled around to different departments, in the hope that they'd find something they liked enough that they would do the job, and (fingers crossed) that they'd be capable of doing the job. Or at least they'd cause no great harm.

I worked in outside sales, and one such wunderkind was shoveled into our department, probably because he liked to go out to lunch a lot, and the powers-that-were thought he could at least take customers along for the meal.

I had the un-pleasure of dining with him on several occasions, and whenever he had the chance, he'd order Pasta Puttanesca. Not because he particularly liked it better than other offerings, but because it would allow him to grin creepily and ask everyone at the table, "Do you know what that means?"

He was not Italian, nor did he speak Italian, but he had once asked a waiter what puttanesca meant, and was absolutely delighted that a pasta dish was named after ... well, ladies of the night. And he gleefully shared that knowledge with whoever was dining with him.

The story is that the ladies in question would make this dish because they could make it fast, which allowed them to get back to work quickly. But of course, he didn't care about the story. He just loved translating the name (usually in cruder terms) and gauging the reactions of people at the table, hoping for shock or horror.

Yup, that's the guy you want representing the brand.

Back then, I just rolled my eyes and said yes, I know. These days, I'd probably conspire with a waiter to invent a dish named after men with small noses.

No matter what the name, the dish still holds up as a quick and tasty meal. This version comes from Patsy's Italian Family Cookbook by Sal Scognamillo. Patsy's is an Italian restaurant in New York, and the recipes are what you'd expect from a restaurant serving the classics.

The recipe is actually for Linguine Puttanesca, but I've also had it with spaghetti. Use what you like.

I didn't have the anchovies in oil, but I did have anchovies in a tube. I just eyeballed the amount.

Linguine Puttanesca
Adapted from Patsy's Italian Family Cookbook by Sal Scognamillo

1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes in juice
1/2 cup pitted and coarsely chopped kalamata olives
3 tablespoons drained capers, rinsed
6 anchovies* in oil, drained and finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound linguine, cooked al dente in boiling salted water
Grated parmesan (or the good stuff), for serving

Get the water boiling and cook the pasta while you're working on the sauce.

Heat the oil and garlic together in a large, deep skilled over medium heat. Stir very often until the garlic is just turning golden. It can burn in an instant. If it does, toss the garlic and oil and start over.

Pour the juices from the tomatoes into the pan, then crush the tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Bring the mixture to a boil, then add the olives, capers, anchovies, and oregano. Reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer until it has thickened, about 20 minutes. If the linguine hasn't cooked to al dente by this time, set the sauce aside.

The book suggests draining the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water, and adding the sauce to the pasta along with the reserved pasta water. Instead I transferred the pasta to the sauce, then added pasta water. Do whichever you think is easier.

Bring the pasta and sauce to a boil over high heat. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste - you might not need a whole lot of salt since you have olives, capers, and salty pasta water already.

Serve hot with cheese on the side to add as desired.

*I used anchovy paste from a tube and eyeballed the amount.

I received this book from the publisher at no cost to me.