27 August 2014

Summer Pasta Puttanesca Pugliese from The Italian Country Table

Pasta Puttanesca Pugliese
When sun drenched tomatoes hit our farmers market I am there at first dawn from the beginning to the end of the season. I wait with baited breath for the first thin skinned, sweet tomatoes to make their way into my kitchen. One of the first dishes of this season is a summer spaghetti of fresh tomatoes, basil, and minced garlic prone to subtle changes and sometimes interspersed with feta, ricotta or buffalo mozzarella. In the stifling heat of mid summer, when the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven, this "new to me" version assaulted my senses. This dish comes from the southern region of Puglia where my dreams of fresh tomatoes, garlic, olives, herbs, capers, cheese, and chilies converge. 
Summer in the Okanagan Valley
 As the story goes from the book The Italian Country Table a farmer from the Puglian region made a once-in-a-lifetime trip across the Italian peninsula to Naples. There he tasted the infamous cooked tomato sauce Naples' Puttanesca "Pasta of the Streetwalker." He returned home with tales of his travels haunted by this dish but probably not relating the entire truth about where he had the opportunity to try it. To make it her own his wife could not resist adding the Puglian touch of wild arugula to this seasonal dish. It's an exemplary example of how pungent ingredients like olives, capers, raw onion, and chilies can marry so well to bring out the nuances of the tomato's complicated flavours. 

Puglia is comprised of sun-bleached landscapes, silver olive groves, picturesque seascapes, and memorable hilltop and coastal towns. It is a lush, largely flat farming region, skirted by a long coast that alternates between glittering limestone precipices and long sandy beaches. The heel of Italy juts into the Adriatic and Ionian Seas and the waters of both are stunningly beautiful, veering between translucent emerald-green and dusky powder blue. 

In a land where the cuisine is all-important, Puglia's cucina povera (peasant cooking) is legendary. Olive oil, grapes, tomatoes, eggplants, artichokes, peppers, salami, mushrooms, olives and fresh seafood strain its tables. Although boasting some of Italy's best food and wines, in some places it's rare to hear a foreign voice. But in July and August Puglia becomes party central, with sagre (festivals, usually involving food), concerts and events, and thousands of Italian tourists heading down here for their annual break.

I dream of one day visiting Puglia where wild arugula (also called wall rocket) grows in wild abandon. It has small, fleshy, peppery leaves that taste clean and sharp, quite different from the more familiar cultivated arugula, which can become medicinal and bitter when it's too mature. For this summer dish you can certainly substitute baby arugula or the inner leaves of curly endive or mesclun for an armchair journey to Italy through your tastebuds. 

Instead of anchovies, which I did not have at the time, I added a half tablespoon of rinsed and drained capers for that slight saltiness reminiscent of the original dish from historical Naples. In the recipe it is also interesting to note how a little tomato paste deepens the character of an uncooked sauce. Vibrant and spicy, this is Puglia's uncooked version of puttanesca.

**Pasta Puttanesca Pugliese**
based on a recipe from The Italian Country Table, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 tightly packed tablespoon fresh basil leaves
1 tightly packed teaspoon each fresh marjoram and Italian parsley leaves
1 clove garlic
Generous pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, rinsed (optional) or 1/2 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup Puglia, Liguria, or Nicoise black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
About 3 pounds richly flavoured tomatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 cup crumbled Pecorino Ricotta Salata from Puglia, Cacio Romano, ricotta salata from Sicily, or domestic Vella Dry Jack or Stella Fontinella
2 tablespoons fruity extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
3/4 pound orecchiette pasta (or pasta of your choice)
6 quarts boiling salted water
1/3 tightly packed cup wild arugula (wall rocket), or young arugula, mesclun, or tender curly endive leaves, chopped

Mince together the herbs, garlic, and hot pepper with the salt. Turn into a big serving bowl. Add the onion, anchovies (or capers), olives, tomatoes, vinegar, cheese, and oil and blend in the tomato paste. Taste for seasoning, adding a little freshly ground black pepper if needed.

Cook the pasta in fiercely boiling water, stirring often, until there is no raw flour taste. Orecchiette cook to a chewier consistency than most pastas. Drain in a colander.

Put the pasta pot back over medium-high heat. Spoon most of the sauce's liquid into the pot. Stir in the drained pasta and cook a few minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Turn the pasta into the sauce and add the arugula. Taste for seasoning, toss, and serve.

Serves 6 to 8 as a first course, 4 to 6 as a main dish

Cook to Cook: The sauce can wait several hours, lightly covered, at room temperature. Do not refrigerate it.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. I dream of this all winter long!! What a delicious and beautiful recipe.


  2. Oh Val, how I love this recipe AND your gorgeously stunning photos. :-) You've whisked us away to Italy today, and it is bliss. :-)

  3. Now I want to visit puglia, too... And pick my own arugula! Fabulous photos and delicious-looking dish :)


  4. The Okanagan valley is so beautiful! A great summer dish. Tasty. One of my favorite pasta recipes...



  5. Beautiful post and photos of Pulgia and fresh puttanesca sauce. I'm ashamed to say I've never made puttanesca sauce with fresh tomatoes, only canned tomatoes. What a difference!

    1. Thanks Sam. Puglia is definitely on my radar and I dream of going there one day. The photos are of home here in the Okanagan Valley, confusing I know. I think it looks most like Greece here rather than Italy.

  6. What a glorious post. My husband has gone to Puglia frequently on business and it could never be arranged to get me there. One day .... I am awash in tomatoes (yay) and this will be a fun sauce to do before the season ends.

  7. Totally my kind of food. Haven't been to Puglia (yet). My friends went on a biking tour. I can see myself doing a foodie tour:).

  8. I've been studying up on Puglia because I've heard such wonderful things about the food from that area. GREG

  9. Tomatoes are the highlight of summer

  10. What a gorgeous recipe - we went to Puglia last year and I loved it - if you get the chance go to Ceglie Messapica, it's a foodie heaven!

  11. First, your photos of the Okanagan valley are beautiful…so many pretty places to visit in a lifetime. I make puttanesca sauce but have never thought of adding arugula. I must give this recipe a try while I have so many tomatoes in my garden.

  12. Beautiful photos of Puglia and I'd love to visit the area I love puttanesca sauce and will have to try this recipe!

  13. Any combination of 'home grown' tomatoes, capers, olives, anchovies, olive oil, and basil, gets my vote. As a serious spaghetti eater, it's on the menu quite often (even here in southern France).

  14. There is absolutely something romantic with the arrival of tomatoes-The idea of enjoying vine ripened tomatoes and their pairing friends ( basil, olive oil and cheese) deep in the heart of Italy is divine.

    You made a beautiful sauce that represents late summer. Thanks for sharing.


    P.S. Thank you for your comment on my paella blog post.

  15. That sauce sounds so good! I love the anchovies to add a little extra pizzazz.

  16. Puttanesca is one of my favorite pasta dish! I like this pugliese version that comes with fresh herbs and pecorino cheese.


Welcome to my home. Thank you for choosing to stay a while and for sharing our lives through food. I appreciate all your support, comments, suggestions, and daily encouragement.


This blog uses comment moderation therefore SPAMMERS, SELF-PROMOTERS and ADVERTISERS will be deleted.