Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pasta Puttanesca

Spaghetti alla puttanesca literally translated is "pasta in the style of a whore" - is that not beautiful and poetic and doesn't it make your mouth water? But seriously, puttanesca sauce is DELICIOUS. There's some debate on where it originated and what the ingredients are supposed to be but whatever. Screw the haters debaters and tweak the recipe to your liking. To me, it's puttanesca if there are anchovies and crushed red pepper flakes in it - those are the special ingredients. Anchovies? Yes, anchovies. Cue chorus of little kids yelling, "EWWW!" They have this terrible reputation - the majority seems to agree that it's the most repulsive pizza topping - but they're just so delicious in this sauce. They dissolve and disappear right into the sauce so don't freak out about biting into a piece of fish; they just add a salty something that you'd definitely miss if it weren't there. It's that ingredient that makes you go, Hm, what IS that?

So without further ado, here's how I make my puttanesca:

Ingredients (serves 4)
1 lb pasta (which technically serves 8 but a 1/8th lb serving of pasta is pretty pathetic so I'm saying 4 servings per box of pasta)
28 oz. can of San Marzano tomatoes, which are sweeter and less acidic than regular canned tomatoes (if all you have is regular canned tomatoes, it's not the worst thing in the world; deliciousness will still happen)
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 anchovy fillets (packed in oil)
1 teaspoon of oil from the anchovy can
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake (adjust the amount to your spiciness tolerance)
1 tablespoon of capers, drained (I usually count 12 capers)
1/2 sweet onion
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon oregano
drizzle of honey
pinch of salt
bunch of basil
Start your whore-style spaghetti by chopping up some garlic and onions. I like a rough chop to my aromatics because I like a chunky sauce. If you're a smooth guy/gal, give it a fine chop or a mince or if you want to be extreme you can take it to the food processor. Be your own chef. Make your own decisions.

In your pot, add oil, anchovy fillets, crushed red pepper, and capers. Turn the heat on low and just leave this mess alone for 1 whole minute.
As the oil heats up, it'll start soaking up the flavors of the ingredients sitting in it. Also, the anchovies will start to dissolve. It's pretty magical. You might have to give it a little nudge with your wooden spoon but it will happen. I guarantee it!
After a few minutes, you should be unable to pick out any anchovy. The oil will just be a sizzling mess of flavor.
At this juncture of all junctures (juncture? even I'm rolling my eyes at myself), is when you should add in the onions and garlic. Give them a stir to get each and every piece coated in the lovely flavored oil and let them sweat; not saute, not fry, but sweat. {Sweating = heating the vegetables over a low heat to make them release moisture (like how humans sweat) and to soften them to draw out the flavors}. Add in a tiny pinch of salt to help the sweating process. Once the onions are translucent, it's time to add in the tomatoes.
San Marzano tomatoes are a type of plum tomato and it's the best tomato for making sauce. Why? Let me list the reasons: 1) it has a hearty flesh 2) and few seeds and 3) lots of natural sweetness 4) and it's more expensive so you know it's good. If you've never had them, just give them a try and there's a really good chance you'll be converted.
Add in the whole can of  tomatoes to the sizzling onions and give it a stir. San Marzano tomatoes are a bit longer and thinner than typical plum tomatoes so they break down into the sauce a bit more easily. But you can give them a bit of help with your wooden spoon or a potato masher if you're a smooth guy/gal. Once a few bubbles start to form, add in the oregano and honey. The tomatoes are already sweet but I like to cheat and add a bit more sweetness with a small drizzle of honey. You barely need half a teaspoon. Let the sauce simmer. This isn't an all day sauce (for me at least) so I just let it cook for maybe 10 minutes to let the flavors meld.
While the sauce is cooking, boil some water, salt it, and cook the pasta until it's al dente. I'm the type of person who likes to toss the pasta before plating it (because I think it's yummier and it prevents the noodles from sticking to each other and looking like a giant brain) so I add in a few giant ladle-fuls of sauce to the noodles, tear up some basil, and toss. If you prefer to serve the noodles naked and then ladle the sauce over them when they're already on the plate, go ahead. Just don't forget to tear up some basil and add it to the sauce as a finishing touch.
I just wanted a closer shot of that middle photo. How Italian does this look? it's got all the colors of the flag, right?
Plate a pretty little pile of the noodles and spoon a little extra sauce over the top, because it's yummy.
And if you're fancy, you'll grate some parmesan cheese over the top.
And if you're smart, you'll hurry up and dig in.
P.S. The green in the background is a salad, which makes me feel less guilty about gorging on carbohydrates and cheese and it might do the same for you.
Here's a recipe page to make it a bit easier to follow the directions, should you want to make this dish yourself.

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