Pasta Puttanesca (Italian Penne alla Puttanesca) is a traditional Italian pasta dish made with a sauce named sugo alla puttanesca.
The name originated in Naples after the local women of easy virtue. Pasta Puttanesca means "The way a whore would make it", but the reason why the dish gained such a name is debated. One possibility is that the name is a reference to the sauce's hot, spicy flavour and smell. Another is that the dish was offered to prospective customers at a low price to entice them into a house of ill repute. According to chef Jeff Smith of the Frugal Gourmet, its name came from the fact that it was a quick cheap meal that prostitutes could prepare between customers.
A more thorough story about this dish comes from Diane Seed in her book, Top 100 Pasta Sauces. (p.20) ISBN 0-89815-232-1. She says:
A plate of home-made Puttanesca, with olives, tomatoes, anchovies, capers, and garlic, served with rigatoni.My introduction to this famous pasta dish occurred when I overheard two elderly priests discussing the pros and cons of Spaghetti alla Puttanesca ("Whore's spaghetti") as they deliberated over the menu in a Neapolitan restaurant. Made of ingredients found in most Italian larders, this is also known as 'Spaghetti alla Buona Donna' - or 'Good Woman's Spaghetti' - which can be misleading if one is not familiar with the ironic insult 'figlio d'una buona donna' - son of a good woman.
To understand how this sauce came to get its name one must consider the 1950s when brothels in Italy were state-owned. They were known as case chiuse or 'closed houses' because the shutters had to be kept permanently closed to avoid offending the sensibilities of neighbors or innocent passers-by. Conscientious Italian housewives usually shop at the local market every day to buy fresh food, but the 'civil servants' were only allowed one day per week for shopping, and their time was valuable. Their speciality became a sauce made quickly from odds and ends in the larder.
The ingredients for sugo alla puttanesca tend to be very easy to find, and are typically Mediterannean. Extra-virgin olive oil (with butter, if preferred) is put in a frying pan. Then, finely chopped cloves of garlic (sometimes with onions) are added, followed by peperoncino (dried hot peppers) and anchovy fillets mashed with a fork. Anchovies are usually not sautéed for a long time, to avoid a strong "fishy" taste. Tuna and mushrooms may also be added for variety to the soffritto. Tomatoes are poured in, and when the sauce comes to the boiling point, chopped capers (in vinegar) and stoned black olives will be added. Then the sauce will be reduced over fierce heat. As a final touch, chopped parsley (preferably with fresh basil leaves) is occasionally included.
Recipes may differ according to preferences; sugo alla puttanesca must be a little salty (from salted anchovies and olives), spicy (from hot red peppers) and quite fragrant (with large amounts of garlic). Traditionally, the sauce is served with spaghetti (spaghetti alla puttanesca), although it may also be used with other dry pasta types like bucatini and vermicelli. The sauce is mixed with cooked pasta and minced parsley is sprinkled over the dish on the plate.