Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

June 17, 2013

Pasta and starches generally are part of the Mediterranean diet, that does not mean jumbo servings of pasta with creamy sauces, but pasta with mainly vegetable based sauces. Everyone can enjoy a moderate amount of pasta and still maintain their weight or blood sugar levels. However, the reality is that we are eating too many starches and not enough vegetables and fish. Well, this dish comes to the rescue: puttanesca sauce combines all the quintessential Mediterranean diet ingredients: tomato, olives, capers, garlic and anchovies (Lazio version). These are cooked in a small amount of olive oil and the sauce is then combined with pasta.

The tomatoes along with the garlic will give you a good dose of antioxidants, while the anchovies provide protein and the good omega-3 fatty acids balancing out the carbs you are getting from the pasta. This is also a great way to get some of those fatty fish in your diet and it is easy since you can use canned anchovies. Now most Italian recipes require about 3 ounces of uncooked pasta per person, I would recommend consuming more of the sauce and less of the pasta (which is how I like it anyway). That way you get much more of the good stuff and less of the carbs, (in the recipe the amount of pasta in relation to the sauce is only a suggestion, you can use more or less).

Not only is this healthy, it is also simple, as you are pretty much cooking with ready-to-use non-perishable ingredients. And it is quick: you basically sauté the ingredients a bit, boil the pasta and you are done. So keep these ingredients in your pantry and you can make a nice, hearty and healthy meal in no time. And yes my kids loved this and ate all of it.

As for the name, yes there are a lot of stories regarding how this pasta got its name, maybe it was served in brothels, others say the colors in the sauce represented the colors of clothes prostitutes wore and other stories attribute the name of the sauce to several people including an Italian architect, a painter and a cook and not related at all to brothels. No one knows for sure, but we do know that this is delicious.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

spaghetti alla puttanesca
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
This traditional and delicious Italian pasta dish combines the classic Mediterranean ingredients: tomato, olives, capers, garlic and anchovies
Course: Main Course, pasta
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
Keyword: Puttanesca, Spaghetti
Servings: 2
Author: Elena Paravantes
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  • 5 ounces (150 g) uncooked spaghetti
  • 14 ounces (400 g) chopped tomatoes
  • 4 tbsp kalamata olives sliced
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 ounce (30 g) canned anchovies
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • Parsley
  • Salt/Pepper
  • Pepper flakes


  • Prepare all your ingredients (cut, mince etc.)
  • Heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic for about ½ a minute. Add the anchovies and sauté until the anchovies have melted together about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and let the sauce simmer/sauté for about 5 minutes more.
  • Add the olives and the capers and pepper flakes and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Add salt to taste.
  • Once you have boiled the pasta, drain the spaghetti saving 1-2 tablespoons of the water, and put pasta back into the pot.
  • Add the sauce; mix well and heat for a few minutes. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley and serve.
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Photos by Elena Paravantes © All Rights Reserved

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  • Reply Sheri January 24, 2022 at 1:44 am

    Delicious! I couldn’t even taste the anchovies. I did omit capers as the anchovies already had a lot of salt. I made half the pasta (2 ounces) and ate all the sauce (used no salt canned diced tomatoes)–maybe too much? I wonder if you can include potassium and sodium for us limited kidney disease patients.5 stars

  • Reply Mary Wood January 8, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    I find red capsicum is a good substitute.

  • Reply Mary Wood January 8, 2022 at 7:45 pm

    Red capsicum is a good substitute I find.

  • Reply Betsy November 3, 2021 at 1:48 am

    I just made this from your cookbook! My husband and I loved it. The olive oil and capers in the cookbook are 1/4 cup each. I had 2oz can of anchovies. Forgot the pepper flakes. But didn’t miss it. Quick and easy for a night after work!
    I continue to enjoy your site and cook book very much! Thank you!

  • Reply Rachel February 5, 2021 at 5:39 am

    Would it be acceptable to use canned sardines instead of anchovies?

    Also, I found your website around November and have been enjoying your simple, delicious recipes as I try to eat a more Mediterranean diet. Best source I’ve found so far, thank you!

    I’m finally ready to try some canned fish, found sardines in my local grocery store, and am hoping I can use them in this.
    Thanks again!

  • Reply Wendy January 18, 2021 at 12:41 am

    Hello! Would using an ounce or 2 of anchovy paste be ok? We just started cooking this delicious food, but my boys will not touch the actual anchovy fish.

  • Reply Jermaie January 12, 2021 at 9:44 pm

    Is it best to use sardines with the skin on and bones? I always buy them skinless and boneless.
    Thanks so much

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN January 15, 2021 at 5:00 pm

      Yes, it is better use sardines with bones as you get a good amount of calcium.

  • Reply rachelle December 28, 2019 at 12:52 am

    do you have a low carb alterantive to pasta? i hear about zucchini noodles?

  • Reply Gary Watling November 23, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Oh my Elena…..this is devine!! The BEST pasta and healthy. I subscribe to your site. Beautiful food.

  • Reply Maria Soriano September 7, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    As for whole grain pasta, it has become far more popular in Italy in in recent years, not only wheat but related grains. Especially for this type of dish with a light, vegetable-based sauce.

    Are we allowed to copy the Med Diet Manifesto, say as a painting, as long as we acknowledge the source?

  • Reply Alita March 3, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you for this recipe! I am trying to incorporate more fish in my diet without too much frying and this is perfect. By the way, I once heard the famous chef Rick Stein speak about Puttanesca sauce and I think he said it was so named presumably because it was so quick and easy to make and therefore a preference of prostitutes in Italy who had to quickly prepare food in between ‘customers’.

  • Reply Tom November 10, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    What is your feeling on whole wheat pasta? It seems like everyone recommends it over traditional pasta for “Mediterranean diets” but I don’t see any really traditional recipes for it so I am wondering if it is a cheat/misunderstanding on the whole wheat issue. Same question for whole wheat breads (though I find quite a few recipes for those).

    Thanks for the recipes!

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN November 21, 2015 at 7:37 am

      Well, pasta in the Greek diet is not consumed that often to begin with, but traditionally you are right they did not make whole wheat pasta. For bread, traditionally it was minimally processed flour and in Crete they did you whole grain barley flour, so for bread I go with whole grain.

  • Reply Anne At Home March 5, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Absolutely delicious. Please write a cookbook and put me first on the pre-order list!

  • Reply Namooni June 21, 2013 at 5:24 am

    This looks delicious and I would love to make something like this, however I am severely allergic to tomatoes. Is there a good substitute for them?

    • Reply DachsieDad August 4, 2013 at 12:11 am

      You might try substituting Italian and summer squash.

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