Pasta Puttanesca

Guido Pedrelli
Guido Pedrelli
Italian Cuisine Expert and Food Blogger
Guido Pedrelli
Guido Pedrelli, the mastermind behind Nonna Box, has honed his culinary expertise for decades, inspired by family feasts in Emilia-Romagna. Mentored by his restaurateur nonna, he mastered Italian classics and furthered his skills with professional culinary studies in desserts and gelato making from Mec3. Today, he shares this rich legacy and authentic recipes through Nonna Box.
Expertise: Italian cuisine, Pasta, Pizza, Pastry, Dessert

This authentic Pasta Puttanesca recipe is so incredibly simple, yet so unbelievably good! Made with just 10 basic ingredients, including spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, anchovies, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and capers, this delicious comforting classic is bursting with bold savory flavors. It’s a quick and easy 30-minute quick dish that the whole family will enjoy!

What is pasta puttanesca?

Invented in Naples in the mid-20th century, pasta puttanesca is a very popular classic Italian pasta dish also known as spaghetti alla puttanesca. Literally translated, it means “spaghetti of the whore.” You can find stories that reference puttanesca as a sauce that “ladies of the evening” would make for their clients because it was quick and easy to prepare.

It’s a simple dish that is really easy to make and highlights its unbelievably good sauce, which features savory bold ingredients like anchovies, kalamata olives, and capers that are simmered together in extra virgin olive oil with some diced tomatoes and garlic. Then the delicious simple sauce is almost always tossed together with perfectly cooked spaghetti. Yet, the sauce is also sometimes featured in other recipes like my Skillet Chicken Puttanesca.

This pasta puttanesca is a very traditional recipe just like you would find in Italy. However, there are other variations. For example, the Neapolitan version doesn’t include anchovies. In other recipes sometimes tuna is used. Overall, the recipe is flexible so if you don’t have black olives on hand you can use green olives. If you don’t like anchovies you can omit them or just use tuna like my Spaccatelle Pasta with Tuna. And this dish is just perfect when served with a Caprese Salad to start!

What do you need to make this recipe?


  • Sharp Knife – Makes mincing the garlic and chopping the anchovies much easier.
  • Cutting Board – Works as a surface for chopping.
  • Large Pot – Used to cook the spaghetti.
  • Colander – Makes it much easier to drain pasta.
  • Saute Pan – Where you will make the sauce. Make sure your pan is big enough to comfortably fit the sauce and the cooked pasta.
  • Wooden Spoon – You’ll need a spoon to stir the sauce.


  • Prep – 10 minutes
  • Cook – 20 minutes

What ingredients do you need to make this recipe?

Ingredients for pasta puttanesca on a table: spaghetti pasta, tomatoes, fresh parsley, kalamata olives, garlic, anchovy fillets, garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil.
  • Spaghetti – This dish is typically made using spaghetti, but linguine is another good option. Yet, you can use any type of pasta you have in your pantry.
  • Olive Oil– Use Italian extra virgin olive oil for the most authentic flavor.
  • Garlic – Always use fresh garlic cloves. Store-bought garlic can sometimes have an odd taste due to preservatives.
  • Anchovy Fillets – They add lots of salty savory flavor to the dish. You can also use anchovy paste. But if you don’t like them just omit the anchovy filets or use tuna instead.
  • Red Pepper Flakes – Adds just a bit of spice to the pasta. If you want it super spicy use some whole dried chili peppers. Yet, to make the dish milder omit the chili and just use black pepper at the end.
  • Kalamata Olives – It’s a type of Greek olive often used in Italian dishes. You can also use black olives or green olives if you can’t find kalamata olives. Basically any type of pitted olives will work.
  • Capers – You will find capers near the olives at the market. They are very salty like olives, but briny capers are actually little flower buds that have been brined.
  • Whole Tomatoes – You’ll need some whole peeled canned tomatoes to make the sauce. Use San Marzano for the best-tasting pasta sauce. Fresh tomatoes or grape tomatoes are sometimes used instead of canned tomatoes, but with a little more liquid added at the end. 
  • Fresh Parsley – Used in the sauce to add a lovely bit of fresh herb flavor. Some recipes also call for fresh oregano. 
  • Salt – Needed to season both the dish and the pasta cooking water. I like to use fine kosher salt or sea salt.

How to make pasta puttanesca step by step

1. Cook the spaghetti

To start, bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Next, add a tablespoon of salt to the water along with the spaghetti and cook the pasta according to the package directions or until it’s al dente, which means still firm to the bite.

step by step process for making pasta puttanesca: cook the spaghetti

Then when the noodles are done, reserve 1 cup of pasta water and drain the rest of the pasta using a colander.

step by step process for making pasta puttanesca: reserve 1 cup of cooking pasta water and drain the spaghetti

2. Start the sauce

While the spaghetti is cooking, you can start the sauce. First, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.

step by step process for making puttanesca sauce: heat the olive oil and then add the chopped garlic and chopped anchovies

Next, add the garlic, anchovies, and chili flakes to the pan and saute everything for a few minutes until the garlic is just starting to brown.

Then add the olives and capers and cook the mixture for another minute.

step by step process for making  puttanesca sauce: once the garlic is brown add the olives and the capers

3. Finish the sauce

Now, stir in the chopped tomatoes along with the fresh parsley with a wooden spoon and bring the tomato mixture to a gentle simmer.

Then cover the sauce with a lid and let it simmer on low for 5 minutes.

step by step process for making  puttanesca sauce: cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes

4. Add the pasta

Once the sauce and pasta are ready, add the cooked noodles to the sauce with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water.

step by step process for making  puttanesca sauce: add the spaghetti to the pan and the pasta cooking water. mix for 1 minute.

Then toss everything together and cook the spaghetti in the sauce for about 1 minute over medium-low heat. Now, remove the dish from the heat and serve it immediately garnished with some chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese if desired.

image of spaghetti pasta puttanesca on a pan before serving

Try other authentic Italian pasta recipes:

Expert Tips

  • For the most authentic flavor, use Italian extra-virgin olive oil and high-quality tomatoes, anchovy fillets, olives, and capers. Quality fresh ingredients always make a difference in Italian recipes.
  • Add at least a tablespoon of salt to the pasta cooking water to season the spaghetti. If you don’t, the dish will be bland.
  • Make sure to reserve a cup of pasta water before draining the noodles. The starch in the water helps to make the puttanesca sauce creamy and the salt helps to season it.
  • Don’t season the dish until it’s complete. The pasta water, olives, capers, and anchovies are salty ingredients. You may find that you just need a pinch of salt or none at all. 
  • To make the dish vegan just omit the anchovies and don’t serve it with parmesan cheese.


What does puttanesca mean in Italian?

It’s got a funny name with a story and it’s one of Italy’s favorite pasta recipes. The word puttanesca literally translates to “the ladies of the night pasta” or “in the style of the whore.”

What can I use instead of anchovy in puttanesca?

If you aren’t vegan or vegetarian then tuna is a great substitute. But if you are trying to make your puttanesca vegan you can use nori to give it some fish-like flavor. Other options include miso paste and dried mushrooms. The ingredients in pasta puttanesca are very flexible.

How to store?

Like almost any Italian pasta recipe, pasta puttanesca is best eaten right after it’s made. However, leftovers will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge in an airtight container. You can also freeze the sauce without the noodles for up to 4 months in an airtight container or sealed freezer bag.

What is the taste of puttanesca sauce?

Puttanesca has a simple tomato base with lots of bold salty savory flavor from the olives, capers, and anchovies. It’s also a tad bit sweet from the tomatoes.

Pasta puttanesca recipe picture in a dish on a table

Pasta Puttanesca

This easy pasta recipe is simple and quick to make, it combines a few ingredients for an explosion of flavor.
5 from 2 votes
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Course: Pasta
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 490kcal


  • 12 oz dried spaghetti
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 5 anchovy filets finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ cup kalamata olives pitted and cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 14 oz can whole peeled tomatoes chopped (San Marzano if possible)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh parsley finely chopped
  • Salt


  • 1 Sharp Knife
  • 1 Cutting Board
  • 1 Large pot
  • 1 Colander
  • 1 Saute Pan
  • 1 Wooden spoon


  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Next, add the spaghetti and cook it according to the package directions until it’s al dente. Then when it’s done, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta.
  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saute pan. Then add the minced garlic, chopped anchovies, and red pepper flakes and saute the mixture for about 3 minutes or until the garlic is golden brown. Now, add the olives and capers to the pan and cook the mixture for about 1 minute more.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes and finely chopped parsley to the pan and stir them together with the other ingredients. Now, cover the sauce with a lid and let it simmer on low for 5 minutes. Then taste the sauce and season with salt if needed.
  • Add the cooked spaghetti to the large saute pan along with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water. Then toss everything together and cook the pasta with the sauce for about 1 minute over medium heat.
  • Remove the pasta puttanesca from the heat and serve it immediately with some more freshly chopped parsley and parmesan cheese if you like.
Serving: 100g | Calories: 490kcal | Carbohydrates: 69g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 18g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 3mg | Sodium: 529mg | Potassium: 415mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 312IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 70mg | Iron: 3mg
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