Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca

Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca is a simple pasta dish that’s made with simple ingredients and ready in about 30 minutes.

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white plate with a serving of Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca garnished with fresh parsley on a dark background.

This easy pasta dish is full of fresh vegetables, making it a very healthy dinner that’s perfect for a weeknight meal. Pair it with crusty bread and a side salad for a delicious meal that even the kids will love.

Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca

Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca originated in Naples, Italy in the mid-1900s. The name “puttanesca” is derived from the word, ‘puttana’, which means ‘whore’. One theory is that the dish originated in a bordello.

Another thought is that in Italy, ‘puttana’ is often used as an all-around profanity, kind of like ‘shit’. So the name originated when someone said they threw a bunch of ‘shit’ into a pan. 

Puttanesca sauce usually combines tomatoes, capers, olives, garlic, and olive oil. You’ll find recipe variations that include dried fruit or tuna.

Small glass bowl on a wooden board full of small capers.

What Are Capers?

If you’ve eaten chicken picatta, then you’ve eaten capers. They are small, green balls that have a salty, lemony flavor. But what are they exactly?

Capers are the unripened flower bud of the Capparis spinosa bush, which is grown in the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. The buds are dried and then pickled.

Capers come in a variety of sizes from very small, French nonpareils, which have the most delicate texture and mild flavor to large, olive-sized capers that are much stronger in taste and should be used sparingly.

Be aware that capers are vinegary and salty and you should adjust the seasoning of your recipe to accommodate. You could also rinse the capers before using them to remove some of the saltiness and tang.

Ingredients for Spaghetti Puttanesca on a black background.

Ingredients Needed

  • Olive oil – I used extra virgin.
  • Garlic cloves – don’t use jarred garlic, as it will burn. Instead peel large, fresh garlic cloves and slice it very thinly with a sharp knife. Slicing the garlic will allow it to fully flavor the oil.
  • Anchovy – Hear me out on this one. Rather than tasting fishy, once the anchovies melt into the olive oil, they mellow out and add a nutty, salty flavor to the pasta. If you really want to, you can leave out the anchovies and use more salt, but the sauce will taste a bit ‘flat’.
  • Red pepper flakes – for flavor and a touch of heat.
  • Capers – I used nonpareils, which are the smallest capers. You can find them in the pickle aisle of your grocery store.
  • Black olives
  • Whole peeled tomatoes – look for San Marzano tomatoes as they have the best flavor.
  • Fresh plum tomatoes
  • Long red chili pepper – this is optional but adds a bit of freshness, heat, and crunch to the pasta. If you can’t find them, you can increase the red pepper flakes.
  • Salt and pepper
  • Spaghetti – I used linguine, but anything other than thin spaghetti or angel hair will work.
  • Fresh parsley
  • Parmesan cheese – Please buy freshly grated cheese at the deli counter of the grocery or better yet, grate your own. Please, please don’t buy that stuff in the plastic shaker jar.
Closeup view of Spaghetti Puttanesca in a white bowl.

Steps To Make This Recipe

  1. Saute the olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes together until the anchovies ‘melt’ into the oil.
  2. Add the olives, caper, and tomatoes and simmer to blend the flavors.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti almost to al dente. Drain and toss the pasta into the tomato mixture.
  4. Add the sliced plum tomatoes and sliced chili peppers. Cook, tossing to flavor the pasta and sauce.
  5. Toss the pasta, turning it in the sauce until the pasta is tender and the sauce sticks to the spaghetti.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Garnish with parsley and Parmesan cheese.

More Pasta Recipes To Try

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white plate with a serving of Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca garnished with fresh parsley on a dark background.

Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca


Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca is a simple pasta dish that’s made with simple ingredients and ready in about 30 minutes.



6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

5 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

4 anchovy fillets, minced (or 1 ½ tablespoons anchovy paste)

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

⅓ cup capers, drained and roughly chopped

¼ cup chopped black olives

½ cup whole, peeled San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand

4 small plum tomatoes, thinly sliced

12 fresh long red finger chili peppers, thinly sliced

Kosher salt

8 ounces dried spaghetti

⅓ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon black pepper


In a large skillet with high sides, combine 4 tablespoons olive oil, sliced garlic, anchovies, and red pepper flakes.

Cook over medium heat, stirring to break up the anchovies until the garlic begins to turn a pale golden color – about 5 minutes.

Stir in the olives and capers. Cook for an additional minute.

Add the canned tomatoes and bring the mixture up to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring heavily salted water to a full rolling boil. The water should taste like the ocean.

Cook the spaghetti for about 2 minutes less than the package directions. The pasta should be a little less cooked than al dente.

Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta in a colander.

Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and add a few tablespoons of the pasta water to the skillet.

Place the skillet over medium-high heat and toss the pasta together with the sauce and pasta water.

Cook, stirring often, adding more pasta water if the mixture begins to look dry or begins to stick.

Toss in the sliced pepper rings and plum tomatoes. Toss to combine.

Cook the pasta, turning it often in the sauce until it is al dente and the sauce sticks to the pasta rather than staying in the pan.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, parsley, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper.

Taste to adjust seasonings for salt and pepper.

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: Main Dish – Pasta
  • Method: Saute
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: healthy spaghetti alla puttanesca, pasta recipes, spaghetti recipes, Italian recipes, easy dinner ideas, weeknight dinners

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