Spaghetti Squash Alla Puttanesca
This savory, easy to prepare puttanesca sauce pairs wells with spaghetti squash for a flavorful-yet-light meal.
Serves: 4 • Prep Time: N/A • Cook Time: 25 mins
Spaghetti Squash Alla Puttanesca
Every now and then I lose not just the will to cook, but the will to eat. I know it’s happening when I find that my kitchen trash can is full of takeout containers (or, let’s be honest, the small trash can in my bedroom next to my television). A lot of people must experience this; it’s that feeling you get when you’re standing in front of your fridge, which may or may not be filled with perfectly fine, delicious ingredients, and you think “well, now what?” It’s the same feeling as when you’re pulling up menu after menu online and nothing seems appealing. It’s discontent. Discontent with eating, discontent with food, discontent with more decisions.
I find this to basically be a form of cooking-related depression. You know that once you make a decision you’re going to feel better, but you want something specific, something that will get you out of your rut, and the problem is you can’t put your finger on what that is. Well, today I fell back on a time-honored and cherished tradition: puttanesca sauce.
“Pasta alla puttanesca” apparently translates to “whore’s pasta”.
Pasta alla puttanesca has a history that, if you were being generous, could be described as vague. Normal methods of information gathering (i.e., Wikipedia) tell us basically nothing, in that nobody can can seem to agree on where the recipe first showed up or what exactly is supposed to be in it. My favorite story is the one that involves Italian ‘ladies of the night.’ “Pasta alla puttanesca” apparently translates to “whore’s pasta”, and the story goes that Italian prostitutes would cook this pasta while leaving the brothel doors and windows open, with the intent being that the smell would lure in customers. You know you’ve got something good cooking when it’s your food that’s leading people off the proverbial ‘straight and narrow.’.
So what’s so great about this recipe? Well for one thing, most of the ingredients that appear here are probably already living in your pantry or fridge, and so it’s a great “what can I make without going to the store” recipe. This version differs from others you might find in that it really packs in a large amount of very flavorful ingredients. This is deliberate and is influenced by a number of factors. For one, a lot of puttanesca recipes floating around really lowball two key ingredients – anchovies and garlic. While it’s true that both of these pack a wallop in small measures, increasing the volume will not result in harsh flavor. The garlic cooks down and loses its raw edge, and the anchovies become salty and mellow. The lemon zest, a trick I picked up from Slate’s version (http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/10/23/puttanesca_sauce_etymology_and_recipe_prostitutes_have_nothing_to_do_with.html), helps to add a surprising brightness. Also, the oil cured olives could be substituted for another variety, but they add a quality to the sauce that can’t be beat.
*A note about anchovies: anchovies are an ingredient that a lot of people shy away from. A pretty large number of Americans will simply refuse to eat fish or seafood of any variety (for which there is zero logical explanation), but an even greater percentage avoid anchovies. We’re taught from a pretty young age that they’re fishy, salty, and smelly, and unfortunately this is basically true. The thing is, anchovies as we typically have them presented to us aren’t really suitable for eating alone. While it’s increasingly common to find extremely high quality canned fish, your average supermarket is going to have what I would refer to as ‘sweatshop anchovies.’ They’re gonna be packed in oil, they’ll probably be fairly mushy, and they may come from a country where you say to yourself “they have a fishing industry?” Suspend judgment though, because for our purposes, they’re perfect.
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When anchovies are sautéed in oil over heat they not only release their natural oils, they also melt apart and distribute beautifully, and with no bones to get stuck in your throat or teeth. Even low-quality ones add an umami flavor that’s hard to find from other sources, and you’ll get none of the fishiness people are so worried about. I once heard Bobby Flay say that you should just sneak them into people’s food, and normally I’d be ok with that, but in this case you should know and not worry about it. Follow the recipe and you’ll be extremely pleased.
Place your oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is beginning to shimmer, add the anchovies and stir until the fish had broken up and is beginning to brown, about three minutes.
Add the onion and garlic to the pan. Stir everything together and cook until soft and beginning to turn translucent, around 7 minutes.
Add the red pepper flakes, olives, capers, and lemon zest to the pan, and stir to mix. Next, add in the chopped tomatoes and give everything a stir to make sure it’s nicely distributed. Your sauce will look a bit watery, and so next you’ll reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for around 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. The ultimate goal here is a sauce that is thick but not dry.
Once your sauce has finished cooking remove from heat and stir in the parsley. Plate your spaghetti squash into a nice pile or nest and spoon your puttanesca sauce on top of it. Serve immediately.
Here’s how to make this delicious recipe
In a large saucepan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the anchovies and stir until the fish has broken up and is beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.
Stir the anchovies until they have broken up
Add the onion and garlic to the pan. Stirring constantly, cook until soft and beginning to turn translucent, about 7 minutes.
Add the red pepper flakes, olives, capers, and lemon zest to the pan and stir to mix. Add the chopped tomatoes. Cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
Remove saucepan from heat and stir in chopped parsley. Plate spaghetti squash and top with finished sauce. Serve immediately.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- One 2 ounce can anchovy filets packed in oils
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 12 garlic cloves chopped
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup pitted and chopped cured olives
- 1/2 cup pitted and chopped mixed olives
- 2 tbsp drained capers
- Grated zest of 1 lemon
- One 26- or 28-oz container/can chopped tomatoes
- 3/4 cup chopped parsley
- Cooked flesh of one 6-pound spaghetti squash
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Who’s Cooking Today
Jacob Dean is a freelance food and travel writer, recipe tester, and culinary product reviewer based in Washington, D.C. He is a regular contributor to The Cook’s Cook Magazine, DCist, Industree, has freelanced as a recipe tester for the New York Times, and has been published by the Washington Post. Jacob has tried over twelve hundred unique beers (he keeps count).
You can find him online at jacobdeanwrites.com, on Twitter as @SchadenJake, and on Facebook as Jacob Dean Writes.
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