Friday, February 15, 2013

Linguini alla Puttanesca

Last Year's Post:Chocolate Turnovers

Whoa.  This recipe probably should be rated "R" for Adult Content. It may look innocent but it's not.  Puttanesca (poo-tah-nes-kah) actually comes from the Italian word for harlot, if that tells you anything. If you're one of those people who thinks ketchup is a spice you probably should stop right here and check out last year's post instead at the link above this paragraph (chocolate turnovers, yum).  But if you like big, bold flavors and a little spice in your life, this one's for you.  This dish makes you sit up straight and pay attention - just the thing to shake you out of the mid-winter doldrums.

The big, bold flavors come from garlic, olives, capers and anchovy paste.  Anchovy paste?  Yup.  Don't be afraid, the sauce doesn't taste fishy but the anchovies add a pungent note.  No one will even know they are there.  Still, opening a can of oily little fish can be relatively disgusting so anchovy paste is a much better solution.  You'll find it next to the canned anchovies in the grocery aisle.

You will smell anchovies when you first put the paste into the pan, but don't panic.  The smell goes away as soon as you put the tomatoes in 30 seconds later.  Just don't let any timid family members into the kitchen during that phase.

The spiciness in the recipe comes from crushed red pepper flakes.  1/4 teaspoon might not seem like much, but all I can tell you is that my lips were tingling for five minutes after I was done eating (The Lawyer was measuring things at this point while I was still chopping, and I suspect his 1/4 teaspoon was on the heaping side).  It's not hot enough to make you sweat - if you're one of those strange people who actually like to sweat while you eat you could always add more red pepper.  But I usually like to make a recipe according to the directions before I start messing with it.  My perception of how hot something is will not be the same as yours.  One last thought about chopping - there's a fair amount involved in this recipe so if you're making it by yourself I suggest doing the prep work before you actually start cooking.  It'll make things simpler.

A few teaspoons of sun-dried tomatoes add depth of flavor to the sauce in addition to turning it a darker, more beautiful red.

When you add the olives, capers and herbs the sauce gets even prettier.

This is a meatless meal, but you'll never miss the meat.  I like to go meatless for dinner once or twice per week, especially if I had some sort of meat at lunch. The trick is to make the flavors interesting enough that you don't miss the protein.  Trust me that this meal fits the bill.  Serve it with fresh crusty bread and a glass of wine, and you're good to go.

click here for a printable recipe

Linguini alla Puttanesca
serves 6-8

1 lb dry linguini
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives, slivered
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons capers, drained
¼ teaspoon salt

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

For the pasta, bring a large pot of water (salted if you prefer) to a boil over high heat. 

Meanwhile, heat a large saut√© pan over medium heat.  Add the olive oil, garlic, anchovy paste and red pepper flakes.  Stir, cooking for 30 seconds.  Add the tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, brown sugar, and vinegar; stir to combine.  Simmer sauce until slightly reduced, 10-15 minutes.  

Meanwhile, add linguini to the boiling water and stir.  Cook pasta as directed on the package.  Before draining, remove ¼ cup cooking liquid to thin the sauce if it looks too thick.

Finish the sauce by stirring in the olives, herbs, capers and salt.  Thin with pasta water if the sauce seems too thick.  Transfer the sauce and pasta to a large bowl and toss until the pasta is evenly coated with sauce.

Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.