Puttanesca Recipe by Eat&Walk Italy

Puttanesca: the sauce with the sinful name

Puttanesca is one of the most characteristic recipes of the Italian gastronomic tradition. The cities that compete for it are two, Naples and Rome. It is a sauce made from tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, black Gaeta olives, capers and oregano. In the Roman version the salted anchovies are added. For the Capital, in fact, it is a fundamental ingredient, while in Naples it is not mentioned. It is no coincidence that the Neapolitans call it pasta aulive and cchjapparielle (pasta, olives and capers).

Even the type of pasta is a source of discord: in Naples, as an accompaniment to this pasta, spaghetti, vermicelli or linguine are preferred; in Rome the pens or the classic spaghetti.

Let’s find out something more about the name and its origins.

Puttanesca: the origins of the name

This bizarre name, puttanesca, has been the cause of great dilemmas on the part of many gastronomists who have tried, with imagination, to find a convincing explanation.

According to Roman tradition, at the beginning of the twentieth century a host created this dish for a brothel that was located on the outskirts of Rome.

Arthur Schwartz, the gastronomy expert, instead, in his book Naples at table, told a similar story but he contextualized it in Naples, in the Quartieri Spagnoli (the Spanish Quarters): the owner of one of the houses of pleasure located in the district decided to refresh his guests inventing a simple and fast dish, with a colorful name.

For others, instead, the name derives from the garments of the girls of appointment houses who probably wore all kinds of linen to attract attention. The many colors of this clothing could be found in the sauce: the green of the parsley, the red of the tomatoes, the dark purple of the olives, the green-gray of the capers, the garnet hue of the peppers.

Still others claim that the name is attributed to the imagination of a Provençal prostitute, Yvette la Francese, who, after having created this dish, gave her this name by virtue of her trade.

Puttanesca: a bit of history

The first evidence of a pasta seasoned with a sauce similar to puttanesca dates back to the nineteenth century, when Cavalcanti in his manual “Cucina teorico-pratica” (Theoretical and practical cooking) proposed some recipes of Neapolitan popular cuisine. He called it Vermicelli with olive capers and anchovies sauces.

Then in 1931 it was included among the gastronomic specialties of the Guida Gastronomica d’Italia (Gastronomic Guide of Italy) published by the Touring Club Italiano: it appears under the name of Maccheroni alla marinara, although the recipe is undoubtedly la puttanesca.

Puttanesca: the recipe


350 g Spaghetti

400 g Sauce tomatoes

80 g Pitted black olives from Gaeta

 2 Tablespoons of salted capers

1 clove of garlic

1 Chili pepper



Extra virgin olive oil

Preparing time 10 min

Cooking time 10 min

Serves 4


Fry the crushed garlic in a pan with a lot of olive oil. Add the pitted olives, desalted capers and chilli.

After a minute add the tomatoes, previously washed and cut into coarse pieces. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, then season with salt and add the chopped parsley.

Meanwhile put the water to boil. Once it comes to a boil, cook the spaghetti adding the salt. Halfway through cooking, with the help of a fork, pour them into the pan with the sauce with a little cooking water and finish cooking.

Serve the puttanesca spaghetti by adding fresh chopped parsley directly on the plates and a drizzle of raw oil.

Enjoy your pasta alla puttanesca!


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