Pasta Puttanesca is a spicy tomato-based Italian dish made with aromatic garlic, olive oil, anchovies, olives, and capers. This classic Italian dish has so many beautiful flavors and it’s easy to make for a quick dinner!

pasta puttanesca in speckled plate

Can you smell the deliciousness of pasta puttanesca through the screen?

It just sounds fancy – pasta puttanesca. Like you’re making something totally exotic. In reality, it’s a pretty short grocery list but the taste is truly like fireworks on your tongue. The whole house smells like the most amazing tomato sauce and it’s as simple as stirring a few ingredients in a pan and boiling pasta.

Layers of delicious garlic tomato sauce spiked with just a hint of red pepper flakes tossed with al dente pasta, oil-cured black olives, and speckled with beautifully briny capers. Top with pecorino romano or shaved parmesan for the ultimate pasta dinner.

It’s less than 10 ingredients for this recipe, most of which are pantry staples, and it’s one that quick and easy enough to toss together for a weeknight family dinner!

buccatini puttanesca on plate with fork showing parsley and olives

What is pasta puttanesca or spaghetti alla puttanesca?

Spaghetti alla puttanesca is an Italian pasta dish that is said to have been invented in the Campania region or Naples, Italy. It’s typically made with tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, olives, and capers. It’s called pasta puttanesca when something other than spaghetti is used.

olive oil infused with garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies in skillet

Ingredients in pasta puttanesca

  • Cloves of garlic: fresh minced garlic helps flavor the puttanesca sauce. We add this in a cold pan with cold oil to infuse the flavors so they carry throughout the dish. 
  • Crushed red pepper flakes: We simmer red pepper flakes with garlic in olive oil so that the heat carries all the way through the sauce.
  • Anchovy fillets: add the most amazing umami flavor. Truth be told, I was scared of anchovies in the past, and have used fish sauce in its place. You can also use anchovy paste if you’d rather not mince up a whole fillet. I found them near the packed tuna in my grocery store, you can also buy them online.
  • Tomatoes: I like using San Marzano tomatoes for this recipe. If you’re lucky enough for grow your own tomatoes, you can certainly use them. I just suggest scoring the tomatoes and boiling them first so that you can loosen the peel and remove it before sq
  • Capers: Add a delicious brininess to the dish. This is truly what makes your tongue dance with joy!
  • Oil-cured black olives: black olives are what are most commonly used for this recipe. You can find them in the same aisle as regular olives or order them online. I do share a substitute below if you’re unable to find oil-cured olives.
  • Pasta: You can use a variety of pasta shapes here! Spaghetti is most often called for in a puttanesca recipe, but I like it with bucatini and even linguine would work.
  • Parsley: Fresh parsley adds color and brightens up this dish. You can also use fresh basil if you’d like. I boil the pasta a little less than package directions. This is so the pasta doesn’t become overcooked when we simmer it in the sauce at the end.
  • Grated cheese: grated parmesan or pecorino is sprinkled on top right before serving.
tomato sauce added to infused oil in skillet

How to make soul-warming pasta puttanesca

  1. Infuse the olive oil. Start with a cold pan and cold oil. Add the minced garlic and red pepper flakes to the pan and let it cook until the flavors infuse into the oil. You want to do this over the lowest heat setting so the garlic and chili flakes don’t burn. While the garlic is simmering, add the can of tomatoes to a bowl. You can drain the can if the tomatoes are packed in a light sauce. Squish the tomatoes to really break them down into an almost chunky sauce-like texture. Stir in the anchovy filets when the garlic is fragrant. Then add the crushed tomatoes and a pinch of salt. Allow the tomato mixture to cook down while you start boiling the water for the pasta. Simmer the sauce on low or medium-low heat so that it gently bubbles away. The smell here is truly magical!
  2. Cook pasta. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Generously season the water for the pasta when it’s boiling. Cook the pasta a two minutes less than you’re instructions say on the package. Save a bit of the pasta water before you drain the pasta in the sink.
  3. Puttanesca! When the tomatoes have stewed down a bit, add capers and olives and stir to combine. Let the sauce simmer a bit longer so the flavors combine. Then taste the sauce and adjust with salt as needed. If you’re still waiting on the pasta to finish boiling, you can easily lower the heat to low and let it simmer a bit more. You’ll probably just need an extra splash of water at the end though so don’t overseason the sauce! You can also season with black pepper, I usually don’t. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to combine. Add enough pasta water to create a lacy sauce that clings to the pasta. Taste and season one last time. Then sprinkle with parsley and serve topped with grated cheese.
skilled with pasta puttanesca on white marble

FAQs about pasta puttanesca

  1. Can I use anchovy paste instead? Yes you can, you will need 1 tablespoon of anchovy paste.
  2. Can you use kalamata olives instead of oil-cured black olives? Yes, kalamata olives will make a decent substitute for this recipe.
  3. What do you suggest serving with this on the side?

If you like this pasta recipe, you might also like:

plate with spaghetti puttanesca with fork and spoon
Yield: serves 4-5

Easy Weeknight Pasta Puttanesca

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Pasta Puttanesca is a spicy tomato-based Italian dish made with aromatic garlic, olive oil, anchovies, olives, and capers. This classic Italian dish has so many beautiful flavors and it's easy to make for a quick dinner!

Easy Weeknight Pasta Puttanesca


  • 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ - ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4-5 anchovy filets, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1 (28 ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • ½ cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and sliced
  • 12 ounces bucatini, spaghetti, or linguine
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons pecorino Romano, for topping


    1. INFUSE: Heat a large pot of water to boiling. Meanwhile, add the garlic and red pepper flakes to a large saute pan. Pour the olive oil over top. Heat the saute pan on the lowest heat setting until it starts to slowly sizzle and the aroma hits the whole kitchen, this will take anywhere from 4-6 minutes. While the sauce is sizzling pour the tomatoes into a bowl and using hands or kitchen shears, break the tomatoes down so that they’re chunky but not completely liquid.
    2. SAUCE: When the garlic starts to sizzle, add the chopped anchovy filets and continue to cook for 1 minute before adding the crushed tomatoes. Season with a small pinch of salt and bring the tomatoes to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often. Then simmer for 12-13 minutes over low heat. When you add the tomatoes to the sauce, your water should also be boiling for the pasta.
    3. PASTA: Season the pasta water with 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than what’s stated on the package directions. Before draining, reserve ½ cup of pasta water.
    4. PUTTANESCA: When the tomatoes have cooked down, add the capers and black olives, stir, and cook for 4-5 minutes so that the flavors meld into the sauce. Keep this over low heat if the pasta requires more time. Then, add the pasta to the sauce, toss to combine, and add a splash of pasta water as need so the sauce thins and clings to the bucatini. Taste the pasta to check when it’s just done, season with salt as needed (you shouldn’t need very much!) Then, sprinkle with parsley and serve with grated or shaved pecorino.


  • Anchovies: If you’re weirded out by anchovies, you can add a tablespoon of fish sauce (I’ve tried with the Asian kind) or a heaping tablespoon of anchovy paste. Both make decent subs here!

Have you made this recipe?

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