WHEN it comes to Italian dishes there is always a story.

First of all there are always varying takes on dishes, often claiming completely different recipes make up the ingredients of many popular dishes - usually this is something that varies region to region, and sometimes even family to family.

Then there is the origin story, the often unbelievable tale of where the recipe originated from, and that is usually the most interesting part.

Being a Roman Catholic country with a rich history, many Italian dishes can be traced quite far back in time, with many origin stories involving religious tales or notable historic events.

Many dishes, even the simplest, usually have an interesting story behind them, and spaghetti alla puttanesca is no different

One of the great things about spaghetti alla puttanesca is how easy it is to make, and how simple the ingredients are, with most of them usually readily available in most Italian family kitchens, meaning it requires little or no shopping, and uses mostly ingredients you can keep in the cupboard, ready for when you need them.

It is the perfect dish for preparing when you do not have much time – or the will to go shopping after work.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca typically include tomatoes, olive oil, anchovies, olives, capers and garlic, so what makes it such an interesting dish?

The origin story.

The dish is said to date back to the mid 20th century, with Naples being credited as its birthplace, and there are two, very different explanations for the name of the dish, one of which might be a bit hard to believe.

For the first explanation for the name, you need to go on the assumption that the title comes from a Latin word, rather than an Italian one.

The first, and most likely explanation for the name spaghetti alla puttanesca is that it is named so because of the strong aroma that comes from the dish. Putida is the Latin word for stinking – an unpleasant term, but you would certainly expect a strong smell to come from a dish involving anchovies, capers and garlic.

The second explanation for the dish – which does seem to be the more popular theory of the two – comes from an Italian word, an Italian word that would mean the translation of ‘spaghetti alla puttanesca’ is something along the lines of ‘spaghetti in the style of a call girl’.

If you are wondering how such a delicious dish could be related to such a specific profession, there are many explanations, the simplest being that such quick meal prep would allow plenty of time for working.

One of the most important things we can learn from this dish’s origin story is that, sometimes, when it comes to food, it might be a case of the less we know the better.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca

Serves 6


1 red onion

4 garlic cloves

½ tsp dried chilli flakes

12 anchovy fillets in oil

2 tbs baby capers

100g pitted black olives

800g cherry tomatoes

500g dried spaghetti

Extra virgin olive oil

A handful of parsley



Parmesan (optional)


1. Take a large frying pan and heat up some extra virgin olive oil over a medium heat. Once the oil is hot, finely chop the red onion and add to the pan before cooking until the onion softens, which should take around five to 10 minutes.

2. To chop a clove of garlic, peel away the skin, crush with the flat side of a knife and then chop the garlic horizontally and then vertically until it is in small pieces. Do this will all four cloves before adding to the pan with the onion. Then add the chilli flakes. Drain and roughly chop the anchovies before adding to the pan too. Cook for two to three minutes.

3. Next drain the capers and add to the pan. Slice the black olives, and add them to the pan. Slice the cherry tomatoes into quarters before adding them to the pan too. Cook for eight minutes, until the tomatoes begin to soften and break down, allowing a little longer if needed.

4. While the sauce is cooking, place a large pan of salted water on the hob and bring to the boil. When the water is bubbling, add the spaghetti to the water. Cook the spaghetti for two minutes less than the time specified in the instructions on the packet. While the spaghetti is cooking, take a ladle full of the water and add it to your pasta sauce before mixing thoroughly.

5. As soon as the spaghetti is cooked, drain immediately. Save a little pasta water so that you can change the consistency of your pasta sauce, using water to thin it out a little if it is too thick. Add the drained spaghetti to the pasta sauce and cook for another 3-4 minutes, adding more water if needed. Stir in the chopped parsley.

6. Serve in warmed pasta bowls immediately, sprinkling with parmesan shavings if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper.