Pasta Puttanesca (Pasta with Anchovies, Capers, and Olives)

Pantry ingredients—anchovies, capers, olives, garlic, canned tomatoes—make puttanesca a quick and easy weeknight recipe.
4 servings
Prep Time
10 Mins
Active Time
25 Mins

After a childhood of Filipino sweet spaghetti, one graduates from hotdogs and processed cheese to explore the wider world of Italian red pasta sauces. There's classic bolognese, the Italian blueprint for Pinoy spaghetti. Arrabbiata, meaning angry, lives up to its name with spicy chilies.

Then there's puttanesca, which some say was invented by Italian prostitutes. If the story is to be believed, the potent mix of anchovies, garlic, olives, and capers gave the pasta an aroma powerful enough to lure customers in. We get it. Who wouldn't be hooked on puttanesca's tangy, briny, savory, spicy flavors?

No anchovy fillets? Use another fish... or bagoong

Traditional puttanesca calls for anchovy fillets, which you're least likely to have lying around in your pantry. But you know what every Filipino household has? Bagoong.

We've used the funky paste to replace anchovies in Caesar salad and aglio e olio. It should work in puttanesca, too. Start with a small amount of bagoong, then adjust to taste—you don't want to go overboard.

If you prefer something more mildly-flavored, puttanesca can take any firm, conveniently packed fish chopped or flaked into bite-sized pieces:

  • bottled sardines
  • tuyo (dried herring)
  • tinapa (smoked fish)
  • canned tuna


  • 250–300g dried spaghetti, linguine, or penne
  • 800g canned tomatoes, whole peeled or crushed
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 4 tbsp capers, drained and chopped
  • 4 tbsp pitted black olives, sliced or roughly chopped
  • 4 anchovy fillets, chopped or mashed
  • chili flakes, optional

For Garnish (Optional)

  • chopped parsley or basil leaves
  • shaved Parmesan cheese

Crush tomatoes: Add tomatoes to a large bowl. If using whole peeled tomatoes, crush them with clean hands. You can do this with scissors or an immersion blender, but crushing it with your hands is much more fun and stress-relieving. Once crushed, set aside.


Make sauce: Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, until fragrant and lightly golden. Do not burn. Add capers, olives, and anchovy fillets. Continue stirring and sauté to combine.

If you want a spicy puttanesca, add chili flakes at this point.

Add crushed tomatoes to the pan. Stir to combine everything. Once liquid is boiling, reduce heat to cook the sauce in a steady simmer. Gently cook until sauce has reduced, about 15 minutes.


Cook pasta: While the sauce is simmering, bring a separate pot of salted water to a boil. The water should be as salty as your memory of the sea.

Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes less than package directions. (The pasta will finish cooking in the pan, tossed in the sauce.) Reserve around 2 cups of pasta water before draining. Do not rinse your pasta!


Toss pasta in sauce: Transfer drained pasta and 1 cup reserved pasta water to the pan. Using tongs, stir and toss until the sauce thickens and emulsifies around the pasta. If your pasta looks a little dry, add as much reserved pasta water as needed.


Serve: Transfer pasta to a serving bowl or divide between individual pasta bowls. Garnish with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve hot.

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