This 10 minute recipe for easy Puttanesca Sauce is made with anchovy, capers and olives with garlic and tomato. Serve it tossed with spaghetti or over your favorite pasta for an easy pantry-friendly dinner.

Pasta in a shallow white bowl with a fork in it

What You’ll Love About This Recipe

This is a great recipe for beginners because it is so simple to prepare! Trust me! Spaghetti Puttanesca was one of the first handful of meals I learned how to prepare for myself when I was a kid so pretty much anyone can make this recipe!

My mom showed me how to make Puttanesca and I am guessing she only had to do so once. Because it is so dang easy. I’m telling you. Once you’ve seen how easy it is to make, you’re pretty much a master puttanesca maker.

One of the things I love about Puttanesca sauce is that, like pasta carbonara, or amatriciana sauce, it is made entirely from staple ingredients. It comes together so simply and fast. Seriously, the pasta will take longer to cook than this sauce takes to make! 

That means it is a great keep-in-your-back-pocket kind of recipe for those evenings when the fridge is empty, you don’t have a plan and you need something healthy, yummy and fast! This Puttanesca is the answer!

What Is Puttanesca Sauce

Puttanesca Sauce is a simple tomato sauce from Southern Italy made with olives, capers and anchovies. It is typically served tossed with spaghetti. If you’ve heard that this sauce gets its name from, how do you say “Ladies of the Night”, you’re probably correct, but also you should also read this article about another possible way it may have gotten this name. If you ask me, I like the plausibility that it gets its name from finding convenient pantry ingredients and throwing it together, simple, unadorned.  Some variations of Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (like those from Naples) are made without anchovies. But there is always loads of garlic! Here in the US, it is traditional to make it with the anchovies. 

a black skillet with pasta puttanesca in it

Ingredients For This Recipe

ingredients for this recipe with labels

Start With Olive Oil

This sauce is greater than the sums of its parts, and while you don’t necessarily taste the olive oil, it adds indispensable richness and mouthfeel that are crucial to the final product.  It may seem like a lot of oil, and yes it is, but it is important to carry the flavors of the garlic, pepper and anchovies and meld it into the tomato sauce. The fat is like the matchmaker between the flavors and your taste buds. Hello delicious! 

I tested this recipe with chunky crushed tomatoes, and we preferred it much better with the smoother consistency of tomato puree. It coats the spaghetti so well!

How To Make This Puttanesca Sauce Recipe

Before You Begin Cooking

  1. Gather your ingredients. The cooking time is so short that you’ll need everything ready before you turn on the heat.
  2. In the likely event that you are having this sauce with pasta, remember to get the pot of water on the heat first thing. 
  3. Have your can of tomatoes open and ready to go before you start cooking! You’ll need to add it to the skillet to prevent the garlic from browning too much and you won’t have time to open it once you add the garlic. 
cook the garlic and anchovies first

Step 1: Cook the Garlic, Red Pepper and Anchovies First

Classic puttanesca sauce includes anchovies, usually a pinch of heat in the form of crushed red pepper and garlic. Adding these ingredients to the oil helps to bring out the flavors of the spice, and tame those of the garlic. I like to stir constantly so I am sure the garlic is cooking evenly. It browns very fast!

add the tomato, olives and capers

Step 2: Carefully add the Tomato Puree

Carefully pour in the canned tomato puree. But be careful because the mixture may splatter. Add in black olives, capers, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer, stirring often.

Step 3: Simmer To Meld The Flavors

Simmer the sauce for five minutes to let the flavors meld and the sauce to thicken up a little bit. 

two bowls of pasta from overhead

Pasta Puttanesca Sauce Variations To Try

Peppers and Onions: If you like to bulk up your servings, and add some veggies, I recommend adding sliced 1 sliced red onion and 1 sliced bell pepper and cooking them in the olive oil until they are softened. Then follow the instructions to add the garlic, anchovies and so on. 

Clams or Mussels: I have also had Pasta Puttanesca with Clams, and so last week I tried cooking mussels with ours and it was delicious. Just add the cleaned mussels in as you simmer the sauce and stir often until all of the shells open. Serve the sauce and the mussels over the pasta. 

Gluten-free ways to use Puttanesca Sauce

  • Gluten Free Pasta: Feel free to swap in your favorite gluten-free pasta. I like brown rice pasta. We also have taken to eating chickpea pasta because it is higher in fiber and protein. 
  • Spaghetti Squash: You can also use spaghetti squash. Here’s how to quickly cook spaghetti squash in the microwave
  • Salmon and Zoodles: I also make puttanesca and serve it with fish, like in my grilled salmon puttanesca. You can pair that with zoodles or any of the above pasta alternatives.

Expert TIps And FAQs For This Recipe

What Goes With Spaghetti Puttanesca?

I think a Caesar salad is a great option. Even better is a overnight kale caesar. Mine is an overnight recipe, which means there’s no need to massage it.
You could also make my classic Garden Salad for a family friendly option.
If you’re a carb lover, this garlic bread would be a delicious and appropriate side as well.
For a fancier meal, you could also cook some shrimp to serve with it for a bit of protein. I like to leave the tails on for presentation. 

I don’t like anchovies, can I make puttanesca sauce without them?

The long answer is also yes, but please try it with the anchovies first. The thing about puttanesca sauce is that you really can’t taste the anchovies. They melt into the sauce and just give it a mild umami flavor. It’s subtle, like spaghetti with tomato sauce, but turned up a level! 
If you do make this without the anchovies, you’ll need to increase the salt a tiny bit. You can also serve this with Parmesan on top too and know that you’re not breaking the cheese and fish rule. (Not that I have ever been one to pay attention to that rule.)

Is puttanesca sauce vegan?

Puttanesca has anchovies in it which are a type of fish so therefore it is not vegan. If it is made without the anchovies it is vegan.

Can I freeze puttanesca sauce?

This sauce freezes very well. Refrigerate the sauce to chill it then portion it into glass containers with snap tight lids. It can be frozen for up to three months.

Equipment Note: Choose a Heavy Skillet

I like to use cast iron for cooking tomato sauce. Cooking acidic ingredients (like tomatoes) in cast iron can be a dietary source of iron! (Source.) I also like the way iron cookware retains the heat and distributes it easily which helps prevent hot spots and burning. 

pasta close up in a bowl with a fork

More Classic Recipes

Thanks so much for reading. If you are new here, you may want to sign up for my free weekly email newsletter for healthy recipes delivered right to your inbox. Or follow me on Instagram. If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It is very appreciated. Happy Cooking! ~Katie

Print
a closeup of a serving of the pasta puttanesca in a white bowl

Recipe For Italian Puttanesca Pasta Sauce

  • Author: Katie
  • Prep Time: 3 minutes
  • Cook Time: 7 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 3 3/4 cups 1x
  • Category: Main Course
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cuisine: Italian

Description

This easy 10 Minute Puttanesca Sauce with anchovies, capers and olives is an easy pantry meal to make with spaghetti! Simply sauté garlic with crushed red pepper and anchovies. Add in tomatoes, olives and capers and simmer for 5 minutes before tossing with your favorite cooked pasta. 


Scale

Ingredients

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 oil packed anchovy filets, chopped

Small pinch crushed red pepper, optional

1 28-ounce can tomato puree

1/3 cup pitted black olives, cut in half

2 tablespoon capers

¼ teaspoon salt or to taste

Freshly ground pepper to taste


Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, anchovies and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, and breaking up anchovies with a wooden spoon until the garlic is just barely starting to brown, about 1 minute.
  2. Carefully pour in tomatoes (mixture may splatter.) Add in olives, capers, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer, stirring often.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 5 minutes, to thicken the sauce and meld the flavors. Serve hot.

Notes

This recipe makes enough pasta for 1 16-ounce box of pasta. Add the hot al dente cooked pasta to the hot sauce and toss to combine. Serve immediately topped with parsley. 

If you omit the anchovy, you may want to add more salt to taste. 


Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 2/3 cup
  • Calories: 132
  • Fat: 12 g
  • Saturated Fat: 1 g
  • Carbohydrates: 6 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Protein: 2 g
Puttanesca Pasta Sauce Recipe