Puttanesca sauce adds more flavor to spaghetti

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

First, the challenge: Puttanesca sauce, of Neapolitan origin, is often overpowered by one flavor, or is heavy or dull, says Shannon Blaisdell in a feature in the April issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine.

She set to work to overcome these faults. After the exhaustive testing that is the magazine's stock-in-trade, she did. The satisfying resolution: After simple preparation and a mere 11 minutes on the stove, the time it takes to boil the pasta, "my puttanesca had become assertive, pungent, and extremely fresh-tasting. The secret was in quick, minimal cooking that allowed each ingredient to maintain its identity."

"Sometimes quick cooking actually means more flavor," she says.

Remember, the pasta and sauce cook in just about the same amount of time. If you like the fruitiness of extra-virgin olive oil, toss 1 tablespoon into the sauced pasta before you serve it, Blaisdell adds.

Spaghetti Puttanesca

(Cooking time about 11 minutes)

4 medium garlic cloves, minced to paste or pressed through garlic press (1 packed tablespoon)

1 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 teaspoons minced anchovies (about 8 fillets)

28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained, 1/2 cup juice reserved

3 tablespoons capers, rinsed

1/2 cup black olives (such as Gaeta, Alfonso or Kalamata), pitted and chopped coarse (see note)

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil in large Dutch oven or stockpot. Meanwhile, mix garlic with 1 tablespoon water in small bowl; set aside. When water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; stir to separate pasta. Immediately heat oil, garlic mixture, red pepper flakes and anchovies in large skillet over medium heat; cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant but not brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.

Cook pasta until al dente. Drain, then return pasta to pot; add 1/4 cup reserved tomato juice and toss to combine.

Stir capers, olives and parsley into sauce. Pour sauce over pasta and toss to combine, adding more tomato juice to moisten if necessary.

Adjust seasonings with salt; serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Note: Minced olives produced a muddy sauce with purple spaghetti. Coarsely chopped olives won't dye the pasta and taste better.

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