Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with Tuna and Castello Odescalchi of Bracciano

Spaghetti alla puttanesca is not a household name for a pasta dish, however good it is.  People are aware of it but don't prepare it.  I knew this pasta fairly well before moving to Italy.  When asked about what kind of pasta I would like to have, one of my immediate responses was spaghetti alla puttanesca.  I was confounded when I was greeted with a round of chuckles.  Didn't I pronounce it correctly?  Then I was told what it meant.  It means "the prostitute's way" because puttanesca is derived from puttana, a colloquial term for prostitute.   Interesting.  One of my favorite pasta dishes is done the prostitute's way. 

This Neapolitan pasta has two unverified stories (they're almost never verified anyway) that I learned about over the years.  Then I found more now that I googled it.  But let me stick to the two stories I knew beforehand.

One is, it's the pasta prepared by the wives for the husbands, feigning how much effort they input in producing such a scrumptious dish.  When in fact, it's one of the easiest and fastest pasta dishes to put together. 

Another one is also based on its effortless preparation.  In the brothels, this was the usual dish that was served to the patrons because it was the fastest dish to cook that gives good, tasty results. 

If you want to understand how overlooked this is, this is only the second time my husband tried it.  The first time was some decades ago in a friend's house.  A lingering memory of good taste remained in him but he never had it ever again.  Until now.

I never had it after I moved here and when I saw Jamie Oliver cooking it in his 30-Minute Meals program and my husband saw it while passing by, we both looked at each other and had a split second agreement that I will have to cook it soon.  That "soon" was a day after.  I couldn't contain my excitement and he couldn't wait to be reconciled with one of the tastiest pasta dishes he has tried.  Puttanesca doesn't have canned tuna as one of the ingredients but the version of Jamie had it.  I decided to go for the tuna too because my kids love my pasta sauce with tuna, capers & tomatoes, which resembles this puttanesca a bit.   I decided to omit the lemon & cinnamon that Jamie's recipe had because I couldn't understand how it would taste like. 

It was bursting with flavor and such a big hit on the kitchen table.  Everyone wanted more and it's a good thing I cooked more than the usual amount.  If you will cook it, add a few more grams of pasta just in case you eat more than your usual because I think you will.

If you're wondering what the connection of the pasta is with this castle, there's none.  I would just like to share with you some pictures of Castello Odescalchi of Bracciano.  It is a beautiful castle from the 1400s set on top of the medieval town of Bracciano, just a few kilometers away from Rome.  Oh, it's where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes got married.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca with Tuna

Serves 4
  • 400 g. spaghetti (I used spaghetti alla chittara.)
  • handful of capers, soaked in water, rinsed and chopped coarsely
  • handful of black olives, halved
  • 1 - 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 anchovy fillets
  • 1 fresh chili, chopped coarsely
  • 425 g. canned tomatoes (or fresh)
  • bunch of parsley
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 160 g. canned or bottled tuna in olive oil
  1. Boil water for the spaghetti.  When it boils, add salt.  Cook following the cooking time suggested in the box.
  2. Meantime, while waiting for the water to boil, saute' garlic, anchovies and chili in a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil.  
  3. Separate the stalks of the parsley from the leaves.  Chop them all finely.  Set them aside in different containers.
  4. When the anchovies melt with the oil, add capers, parsley stalks & olives .  Saute' for about 3 minutes.
  5. Add tuna.  Mash lightly with a fork while cooking to get rid of the big clumps.  Cook for about 8 minutes. 
  6. Add tomato sauce.  Cook for at least 15 minutes or until the spaghetti is ready to be mixed with the sauce.  
  7. Mix in cooked spaghetti.  Toss until pasta is covered completely with the sauce.  Sprinkle the parsley leaves.  Drizzle with fresh extra virgin olive oil.  Serve hot.