Taking the Night Off: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Taking the Night Off: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

My husband is a man of many delightful attributes: He often laughs out loud—a full-throated, no-holds-barred guffaw—when reading a book. Metaphors roll off his tongue (in our very early days, when we communicated mostly via email, he made me swoon by complaining that his upright vacuum cleaner “had the build and muscle of Audrey Hepburn”). His work bench, with its assortment of tools neatly arrayed on pegboard above, makes other men drool. But the thing that impressed me most, that really made me fall in love with him, is the fact that years ago, long before he met me, he was interested enough in food to take a multi-week cooking class at The New School.

In my single days I took a handful of courses at Peter Kump (now the Institute for Culinary Education)—never with the stated goal of meeting a man, but all the women’s magazines say to take a class in an area that interests you; that way if you meet a guy there you’re sure to have something in common… Uh, no. Hardly any men at all took the classes I took (which, for the record, included Techniques of Fine Cooking 1 and bread baking—not exactly chick-specific), and those that did were either decades too old or gay.

Sometimes I wonder if S and I would have hit it off if we’d met over a butcher block cutting board. I like to think we would have, but it doesn’t really matter. The fact that we took our cooking courses separately gives us the chance to compare notes, and it also means that S has a slew of recipes in his repertoire that I’ve never tried. The other night I worked pretty late, and S was working at home, so he cooked dinner. He made pasta puttanesca—a spicy, tomatoey sauce filled with salty, lip-smacking nuggets of olives and capers, with anchovies dissolved into the hearty, indefinably rich foundation. Perhaps the best part of the recipe is that it’s made entirely with pantry items—no last-minute disappointment when you find that your fresh basil’s turned black and mushy. With a simple salad alongside, this is one delicious, and satisfying, meal—and I got the night off!

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
Serves 4

1 pound spaghetti
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ t. red pepper flakes
8 anchovies [S used a scant tablespoon of anchovy paste]
2 cups drained canned plum tomatoes, diced [S used Pomi]
1 T. tomato paste
¾ cup pitted Gaeta olives, roughly chopped [S used kalamata]
3 T. capers, rinsed and drained

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions.

While it’s cooking, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over moderate heat. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook until the garlic softens. Don’t let it brown. Add the anchovies and cook briefly. Add the tomatoes and paste. Bring to a rapid boil. The sauce should be quite dark. Stir in the olives and capers.

Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce.