Puttanesca Pasta Sauce


Puttanesca Pasta Sauce

Puttanesca Pasta Sauce is an old favourite. It gets trotted out when tomatoes are in season, or in the middle of winter when a can of tomatoes suffices. This puttanesca pasta sauce is made using canned tomatoes as the garden has long finished its daily harvest.

ingredients to make puttanesca on a grey table

Supposedly the sauce was created by Italian ladies of the night as a way of luring their customers through the waft of the heady pasta sauce cooking in the laneways of Naples.

Puttanesca is a great pantry standby recipe as we always have the necessary ingredients to hand. Big on flavour, quick on time. So tasty, this quick pasta will be a welcome addition to your repertoire.

frying ingredients to make puttanesca
over a medium heat fry the anchovies, garlic and chilli until the anchovies breakdown

Our cousin Kath gave us this Puttanesca recipe years ago and itʼs one that simply delivers. Food is such a social thing and nothing says compliment more than someone asking for the recipe, and sharing recipes is something we totally embrace. This puttanesca pasta sauce recipe has done the rounds more times than we can count, but itʼs one we never tire of making.


anchovies and garlic frying in a silver pan
gently fry the anchovies, garlic and chilli over a medium heat until the anchovies have brokendown

Extra virgin olive oil is gently heated with anchovies, garlic and chilli giving the flavour base for Puttanescaʼs punchy, pungent, salty and spicy sauce. We’re looking to let the garlic infuse the oil rather than brown the garlic and the anchovies gently dissolve and release their umani flavour.

Here weʼre using canned tomatoes. Take a moment to look at the ingredients on a can. You will see with most brands that the tomato component is anywhere from 45-60% tomatoes. Mmmm….that means that around half the can is water. Not good! Try to find a brand that is 99% tomatoes.

adding tomatoes, olives and capers to a pan to make puttanesca
allow the sauce to gently simmer over a medium low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, just to allow the sauce to thicken a little

We personally like the Italian Mutti brand which is 99.8% tomatoes and a little salt. 

Salty harmony is introduced with the addition of fleshy black kalamata olives and piquant little capers.

cooking the puttanesca sauce in a silver pan
over a medium low heat cook the sauce for 5 to 10 minutes or until slightly thickened

 Gremolata magic

The addition of fresh Italian parsley and lemon zest added at the finish top these layers of flavour off and really lifts this puttanesca sauce to a new level. You’ll be eyeing a second serve!

adding parsley, lemon zest and pepper to pan to make puttanesca

Don’t forget the cheese!

plate of puttanesca pasta on a timber board with crusty bread on the side

Thirty minutes from starting this spicy puttanesca sauce and youʼre ready to scatter the puttanesca with the cheese. Parmesan if youʼre flush! Or its cheaper, but still flavoursome cousins like Grana Padano or pecorino takes this dish to the next comfort level.


We know that Italians generally never serve parmesan cheese with seafood but for our money we particularly like the addition of a light sprinkling of parmesan. It’s up to you!

Freezing puttanesca pasta sauce

Puttanesca pasta sauce freezes like a dream and is perfect for nights when you don’t really feel like revving up in the kitchen. Place the chilled pasta sauce into an airtight container and when you’re ready to use it thaw and heat. Too easy!


Watch how to make Puttanesca pasta sauce

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Simplicity at its best. Do you have a favourite 30 minute pasta that delivers on flavour, cost and time? We would love to hear from you in the comments below when you make this delicious puttanesca pasta sauce.

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Puttanesca Pasta Sauce

  • Author: Recipe Winners, recipe given to us by our cousin Kath Heidrich


Big on flavour, quick on time and oh so tasty. This quick pasta sauce will be a welcome addition to your repertoire.


  • 14oz (400g) dried spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 large anchovies
  • 10 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli with seeds or a good pinch of dried chilli flakes to taste
  • 800g (28oz) good quality canned tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon sugar – optional
  • 20 fleshy kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 2 tablespoons baby capers, rinsed
  • freshly milled black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • large handful fresh italian parsley, chopped
  • freshly grated parmesan 


  • heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat
  • add garlic, anchovies and chilli
  • stir over medium heat, mashing anchovies until they breakdown (use the back of a spoon to melt them)
  •  do not brown the garlic
  • add tomatoes, olives, capers and sugar (see notes below re sugar) and simmer gently until the sauce begins to thicken, 12-15 minutes
  • put a large pot of water on to boil
  • when water is boiling add the pasta
  • add lemon zest, parsley and pepper and gently stir through
  • add drained pasta and stir through to distribute
  • serve immediately with parmesan generously sprinkled over


  • some canned tomatoes are more acidic than others so the sugar helps to balance the sauce
  • if you have fresh ripe red tomatoes you can use them instead of the canned. Simply roughly hand chop into smallish dice.

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