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

Spaghetti Puttanesca was one of the first handful of meals I learned how to prepare for myself. At that point, I had graduated from warming up frozen Fish Sticks or making a can of Cream of Mushroom Soup. I was making Caesar dressing and helping my mom make meat sauce.

I paid attention while she cooked. I often did my homework, then moved into the kitchen to sit across the bar from her and watch her make dinner.

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.

a black skillet with pasta puttanesca in it

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. 

 

 

How To Make Puttanesca Sauce

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! 

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. 

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! 

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. 

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! 

Carefully add the Tomato Puree

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! 

Please use caution as you add the tomato puree as the garlic oil will tend to splatter. (Ask me how I know.) 

Add Olives and Capers and Seasoning

  1. I used regular brined black olives (mine were Greek because that’s all I had, but if you can find black Italian olives, that would be even better.)
  2. For the capers, I used brined capers. If you have the salted kind, make sure to rinse them well before adding them to the sauce. 
  3. Add salt and pepper, but only if you want. Many of you have mentioned that you prefer less salty food, and this sauce tends to be salty on its own, so if that describes you, you can certainly omit it and add seasoning at the table if you need it. I found I preferred to add a little bit of salt (just 1/4 teaspoon) and a fairly generous amount of pepper, because I love pepper! 

Gently stir the sauce into the garlic oil and let the sauce come up to a gentle simmer. Turn down the heat so that it doesn’t splatter the entire kitchen! 

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

If you are serving this with pasta, I recommend adding the pasta to the sauce and tossing it to coat over low heat. Doing so helps the pasta take on some of the sauce.

Steps To Make This Recipe

I don’t Like Anchovies, Can I Make Puttanesca Sauce Without Them?

I know this question is coming, so I am going to answer it right here. I confess that I love anchovies, so I am not entirely impartial. Heck, and even add them to my tomato salads! But I do realize not everyone appreciates them. 

So the short answer is yes. 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.

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.)

two bowls of pasta from overhead

What Other Ingredients Can I add To This Pasta Dish

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 Serve This Recipe

  • Gluten Free Pasta: Feel free to swap in your favorite gluten-free pasta. I like brown rice pasta. We also have taken to eating chick pea 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. 

super close up of linguini with puttanesca sauce on it, twirled around a fork

What To Serve With Spaghetti Puttanesca

  • I think a Caesar salad is a great option. Even better is a 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. 

Thanks so much for reading. If you make this recipe, please come back and let me know by leaving a star rating and review. It is so helpful! 

Happy Cooking!

~Katie 

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

Puttanesca 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. 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

super close up of linguini with puttanesca sauce on it, twirled around a fork with text overlay

Puttanesca Sauce