Food. The ultimate Italian experience. Hundreds of different sausages, dried and hot or sweet, with or without fennel, lamb sausage. Then talk about macaroni, pasta to some, you could write a book about all the different varieties. Each region, each town and truly each family has its own turn, its own peculiarities and its own methods of feeding a family. But “puttanesca” is a little different. Legend has it that it was inspired by a profession. In fact, it was inspired by what is known as, the world’s oldest profession.
The story of puttanesca has a very varied history, and a very interesting one. Some say it was invented in Naples toward the end of WWII. Others put the date as much earlier. Be that as it may, the sauce derives its name from the “ladies of the evening” known as puttana in the old country. See, in times past, opportunities for women were few. There were no female executives, no women owned companies. No, women were to stay at home, cook, clean and have babies, lots of babies and in general insure a stable home life by loving and raising a family. In unsettled times, say during a war, men left to fight and die for the country leaving these women alone to fend for themselves. With no money and no prospects for employment, women needed to do something to attend to the family. Many turned to prostitution to accomplish this. The puttana was born.
Now, believe me, I fully realize and totally agree that this is a completely sexist, biased viewpoint. But we are dealing with history here so you can’t apply today’s standards to years gone by. At any rate, businesses grew. And being entrepreneurial, women added certain perks to their trade and men became very accustomed to them. Puttanesca became a favorite because it is aromatic, flavorful and satisfying. There are also many variations but all come down to a basic, quick sauce so that these clients could get out the door.
So, the recipe is simple and it is ready very fast, but this is no quick and fast tasting meal. The ingredients vary according to your own taste and can contain things like capers, anchovies, not a fan personally, olives and peppers. But to break it down to its simplest terms a good puttanesca contains plum tomatoes, garlic, and onion. To prepare the tomatoes, cut off a piece at the stem end and slice the outer skin. Place the tomato in some boiling water for about 10 seconds and remove it. The skin will easily peel off.
Now, the sauce.First, heat up some good olive oil in a pan. Let it get warm, not too hot. Add 2-3 cloves chopped garlic and let it brown. Add some chopped onion. This will sweeten the acidity of the tomato. Let that sweat down a bit and while that is going on, slice the boiled tomatoes in half and add them to the pan. Let that simmer and if desired, add capers, oregano, anchovies or really whatever, so you can personalize your sauce. Always salt and pepper to taste.
While all this is going on, boil your macaroni, al dente. When that is done, drain it thoroughly and add it to the pan with the sauce so the sauce not only coats the macaroni, it also finishes cooking it and seeps inside it. Plate and serve and just wait for the compliments. Of course, you can always say how many hours you slaved over a hot stove to prepare this meal. It will be our little secret.
Now, a word about the macaroni. Use the good stuff. I always avoid the store brand. You will pay more for say, Barilla or DiCecco, but it is so worth the difference in price. Also, a sauce like this begs for long macaroni. Anything like mostaccioli, ziti, even farfalle is fine. But to do this sauce justice, I would seriously recommend either bucattini or perciatelli. Bucattini is a long macaroni, a little thicker than spaghetti. It cooks up very nicely and looks great on the dish. Perciatelli is tougher to get. Here in North Carolina I hardly ever see it. It is a long macaroni, hollowed out in the middle and looks like a sewer pipe. Basically, there is little if any difference between the two. The sauce will go inside this macaroni and really create a taste sensation. In fairness, it can be a little tough to eat, but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. Add some good, crusty Italian bread and you have a meal that tastes like you cooked all day.
There you have it. An easy weeknight recipe that satisfies and adds a little touch of history to your table. So…”TUTTI A TAVOLA. MANGIARE BELLA!”
Hope I didn’t offend.