What's the ultimate comfort food? It can really be anything. But for many, like me, it's pasta tossed in a richly flavored homemade sauce. Dinner can be as easy as boiling pasta and simmering a quick sauce in under thirty minutes. The Italians could not have come up with a better food. I have always been impressed by their culture and mostly by their food. My dream of traveling to Italy has yet to come true, but I've been preparing since elementary school when I first began learning the language. I'm not so fluent, but until I get to test my language skills in person, I'll continue to cook my favorite pasta dishes in an attempt to flavor my home with a little bit of Italy.
Salty, briny, spicy, savory, and sweet are the flavors that come to mind when I think of a favorite meal, spaghetti alla puttanesca. It's a dish that sprang from practicality and ingenuity and has become one of the most famous Italian sauces. There are many varying myths behind the history of Puttanesca sauce, but the most popular one gives credit to prostitutes for inventing the easy sauce. As the story goes, when not occupied with comforting their clients, the women would whip up this quick meal using pantry staples because they didn't have time or were not allowed to shop for fresh ingredients at the marketplace. And supposedly the robust scent of the simmering sauce wafting into the streets would also entice more clients to visit their houses of disrepute. I guess, in many ways, the dish became the ultimate comfort food.
Every ingredient in this recipe is a pantry item and can be found in many Italian food-lovers' kitchens. Olive oil, a few garlic cloves, and a shallot are the base. The salt-and-brine flavors come from anchovies, olives, and capers. And there's a bit of kick from the dried crushed red pepper. It's always a great idea to have many of these items on hand, but a few large cans of crushed tomatoes in the pantry are always necessary for good Italian cooking. From these ingredients not only can puttanesca sauce be made, but also many others. Don't be afraid to mix and match ingredients to get the desired flavor. You might even invent a new sauce to rival this one.
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes
3 anchovy fillets
freshly ground black pepper
30 Kalamata olives, pitted
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 16-ounce package spaghetti
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Warm oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and shallot; sauté until fragrant and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and anchovies; sauté until fillets fall apart, about 5 minutes. Season with pepper. Add olives, capers, and crushed tomatoes. Cook until sauce has thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes.
While sauce simmers, cook spaghetti according to package directions in liberally salted water. Add pasta directly to pan and toss to coat. Finish with parsley. Yield: 6 servings.