Pasta a la Puttanesca or, a Lesson in Italian Food

So a lot of people are American, right? I know I am. And that means I've been making and eating Italian food since I was a kid. Spaghetti with marinara. Fettucine Alfredo. PIZZA. It's a snap, right? Piece of cake.

Or so I thought this week when I attempted to make Italian with the big boys. Or at least, with a big boy's (actually it was a girl's) recipe. And here are some disconcerting things I've learned. Marinara doesn't come from a can. Alfredo sauce is practically unknown in Italy, outside the American aisle at il Costco. And real pizza should have goat cheese on it.

But most importantly? As Anthony Bourdain (my favorite hero chef of the moment) teaches us: INGREDIENTS! INGREDIENTS! INGREDIENTS! You can have the lightest, simplest Italian recipe in the world (and I think the best ones are light and simple), but if you use shoddy ingredients, you will have. A shoddy dish.

I have so much to learn.

When I was in junior high, we had an Italian exchange student come and live with us for six months. She cooked beautifully, and about once a week she would toss off this pasta dish I had never seen before, something with tomato sauce and olives, and tuna, of all things. It was about my favorite thing to eat, ever, and seemed very fancy and exotic to me, though to her I'm pretty sure it was about the equivalent of a grilled cheese.

So when I got the recipe book Everyday Epicurean from the cookbook section at the library (obviously my favorite section), I was delighted to see it included this recipe for pasta a la puttanesca which contained TOMATOES, OLIVES, and TUNA. Very excited.

But you know, when I skipped my little self over to the grocery store and saw that bill adding right up, I started to...cut some corners.

Canned tuna instead of fresh. On-sale whole wheat penne instead of the good linguine.

I skipped both the anchovies AND the capers, since the recipe called for relatively little of each. But guess what? A little anchovies goes a long way, and leaving it out? You miss it.

And guess what? You could tell. So I'm going to be perfectly honest with you on this blog and tell you - this dish was not awful, but it was not what it should have been. My wonderful husband scarfed it down, I'm pretty sure for the sake of my feelings. But I couldn't help but feeling dissatisfied. It could have been so much MORE.

Oh well.

I'm posting the original recipe here, not my cheapy modified version, in the hopes that someone out there will prepare it according to recipe, and get that fresh, light, salty flavor that it really should have had.

P.S. I'm pretty sure pasta a la puttanesca means pasta for prostitutes. So do with that what you will.

Linguine with Fresh Tuna, Puttanesca Style (from Catherine Bell's Everyday Epicurean)

1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
4 - 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 - 1 t chile powder or crushed dried chile
14 oz can Italian tomatoes, drained, seeded, chopped
1 T capers
1/4 c pitted black olives, cut into quarters
3 anchovy fillets, soaked in milk, rinsed and chopped
1 lb fresh tuna, cut into 1" dice
1 lb dried linguine

Bring a large pot of water to the boil.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over moderate heat.

Add the garlic and chile and cook just until the garlic is fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and cook over a high heat until they start to break down. Add the capers and olives, reduce the heat and continue to cook until the sauce begins to thicken a little. Add the anchovies and tuna. Simmer until the tuna is barely cooked.

Cook the linguine in the boiling, salted water. Drain, then add to the sauce. Toss over a high heat to allow the pasta to absorb a little of the sauce. Place in a large bowl and serve immediately.


Anonymous said...

The funny thing of puttanesce is that (at least according to Jamie Oliver) that there's no tuna, neither meat in puttanesca :) but anchois are the must :)
Thank you for kind words over Chef's Dennis blog :)

libby said...

looks like someone stole her mom's plates...

a. maren said...

no way these are like super fancy plates from anthropologie and like, all my stuff is new and cute and modern and like...(breaks down weeping)