It’s been two weeks now since the fire. We’ll spend one more week in the hotel, but we’ve found a house to rent not far from home and are eager to move in next weekend. It is a perfect house for us while our own is under repair. The best part: our landlords, Lisa and Paul, have decided to have a gas line run into the kitchen in order to replace the old electrical coil stove with a gas one!
Demolition has begun on the interior of our fire-damaged house. Even though the fire itself was contained to the upper floor, water and smoke infiltrated the ceilings, walls and floors of the rest of the house and those will need to be stripped down to the struts. It was overwhelming at first, but we’ve come to terms with it all and are even beginning to think ahead to a few improvements we can make when rebuilding (a kitchen with more natural light for better food photography is one priority).
We haven’t done much cooking lately, and eating out is becoming tiresome. With the weekend upon us, we decided that it is time to roll up our sleeves and see what we can produce out of our hotel room kitchenette. There was once an Iron Chef competition on the Food Network channel that required contestants to prepare enough food for a block party using a just small outdoor grill. Then, when the producers arranged for a downpour of rain, the chefs had to finish cooking their food on the engine of a car.
We don’t have it that bad, but that’s a little like what it feels like to prepare a meal in our kitchenette. We have two little burners, two (dull) knives, two pots, one spatula, and one small glass cutting board. It’s not exactly a chef’s kitchen, but we can make do.
So, we decided to make something delicious, but simple. La puttanesca is just that – a tangy, flavor packed sauce that is quick and easy to make but that packs a punch. It’s a perfect “Famose due spaghetti” solution, and was a good reminder that no matter what the circumstances or where we are, we can still whip up a pretty good plate of pasta.
The world has embraced the Puttanesca sauce without knowing what its name actually means. Puttana is not exactly a nice word in Italian; it’s a vulgar reference to a lady who engages in “the oldest profession.” The -esca suffix turns a noun into an adjective, just like the -esque suffix does in English (adopted from French). Think picture and picturesque. Puttana and puttanesca.
How did this traditional sugo from Naples acquire such a saucy name? There are quite a few theories on this. Some say that it was a quick and easy pasta to prepare for the patrons of a local brothel, but there are other theories, too. What doesn’t change is the ingredient list: garlic, capers, anchovies, and black olives in a tomato sauce. Is your mouth watering yet?
1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 cloves of garlic
One cup black olives, pitted*
1 Tablespoon capers
1 dash of crushed red pepper
1 bunch of flat leave parsley
5 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt, coarse and fine
1 lb spaghetti
*Use an Italian black olive such as liguria, gaeta or lugano, but avoid those that come packed in rosemary or other herbs. A Greek kalamata olive will work nicely, also.
Crush or finely dice the garlic. Rinse the capers and anchovies quickly under running water and pat dry. Cut the anchovies into small pieces. Sauté the garlic, capers, anchovies and red pepper in olive oil over medium heat. If your olives have pits remove them. Cut the olives into pieces and add them to the saucepan. Sauté the mixture until the anchovies have deconstructed and the garlic is golden brown, about 3-5 minutes.
Add your tomatoes, preferably passing them through a food mill in order to acquire a smooth sauce. Let the sauce cook for 20-30 minutes, adding salt to taste. In the meanwhile, rinse and pat dry the parsley. Chop the parsley finely and add to the sauce about 5 minutes before it is ready.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. When it boils, add a handful of coarse salt and the spaghetti. Cover and cook to al dente according to the time specified. When ready, drain the spaghetti and return to the pot. Add the puttanesca sauce to the pot, and mix until the pasta is evenly coated. Serve immediately.
We paired our spaghetti alla puttanesca with a 2009 Sangiovese Rubizzo by Rocca delle Macìe. This wine has a strong acidity and a nice earthiness that balances the pungency and spiciness of the puttanesca sauce.