Monday, 24 March 2014

Tarted-Up Pasta alla Puttanesca

When I'm hungry and have little in the fridge, my current, favourite store-cupboard standby is pasta alla puttanesca (from the Italian puttana: whore, tart, slut, and by derivation puttanata: something or someone worthless, rubbish.)  Salty, hot and piquant, I find it satisfying and good at any time of year.

There are all sorts of stories about how this originated with, ahem, 'ladies of the night', such as the implication that they've been spending too much time with their feet up to go out to buy fresh food, or even more scandalously, that it cooks in the time it takes to serve a client! (It's very quick to make - basically the time it takes the water for pasta to come to the boil and then cook the pasta!)  However, there seems little real evidence for these sources. Wikipedia cites a story about it being whipped up by a restaurant out of store cupboard ingredients which seems far more likely..

As you might expect from the title, it's not a refined dish, although I have seen some recipes where the instructions are to chop everything finely, and use fresh tomatoes. Like all classics, there are variations and why not? I like mine a little rough and chunky. I think the classic way might be to serve it with spaghetti, but in the spirit of things, I tend to use whatever I have in the cupboard, and prefer penne or conchiglie, so that the sauce sits in the pasta to make luscious mouthfuls.

Mine is further 'tarted-up' because I use slightly caramelised onion in the base, and then dump a can of tuna into the sauce towards the end of the cooking time.  If I happen to have half a sweet pepper in the fridge needing to be used up, I chop that and pop it in too. My recipe makes easily enough for two; it freezes (although you might want to take out a freezer portion before putting the tuna in, if you use it, as the tuna can break up into nothing when you reheat it from frozen). Alternatively, it's very good the next day, too. It does mean that your store-cupboard needs to contain garlic, anchovies, capers, olives, chili flakes, canned tomatoes and dried pasta, at least (if not the tuna and an onion).  If yours doesn't, then get some in, and you will always have the makings of something fast and delicious.

Ready? Here we go ...
Whip out two pans, one for sauce, one for pasta, chopping board, favourite knife, wooden spoon, can opener and your ...

A smallish onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, three or four anchovy fillets, olive oil, a teaspoon or two of capers (drained), a dozen or so pitted black olives, chili flakes, a can of chopped tomatoes, a can of tuna, salt and black pepper, pasta of choice.

Fill the pan for the pasta with cold water, add some salt and put it on the heat to come to the boil
Measure out some pasta and note how long it needs to cook.

Skin and chop the onion and either use a little oil from the anchovies or a bit of olive oil to start it cooking.
If you have a bit of pepper to use up, now's the time to chop it up!
Peel the garlic and crush or chop
Roughly chop the anchovies and pitted black olives and add these with the pepper (if using) and garlic to the pan.  Sprinkle in a few chilli flakes to taste and give it all a stir.
Open your tuna and leave it to drain.
Drain some capers, chop if they're not already tiny and add them to the pan.
Open the can of chopped tomatoes and pour them into the pan.  Note how pretty the bright pinky-red of the tomatoes looks when studded with black olives and green capers.

Your pasta water is probably now boiling, so pour in the pasta shapes and get it back to the boil.  Note the time and work out when the pasta should be pretty much done.
Give the sauce a stir and lower the heat to a simmer. Go do something else until a couple of minutes before the pasta is due to be done.
After 8-10 minutes, the sauce will have changed to a darker red.  Taste and season with black pepper, but it's very unlikely you'll need any salt due to the anchovies and olives. Now's the time to take out a portion for the freezer if you want to. Otherwise, pop the tuna into the pan and break it up a little to heat through.
Test the pasta  - it's probably done by now. Drain it well, then pop it into the sauce.
Take a bowlful, perhaps shred a little fresh basil over the top if you happen to have some growing on the window ledge. If you want to make more of an occasion, serve with a green side salad and a glass of red wine.

Enjoy (with your feet up!).

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