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in the kitchen with: linda xiao’s pasta alla puttanesca

by Kristina Gill

When we first started this column in 2007, we had a lot of pasta recipes. We had so many that we tried to branch out into new things. Since then, the column has been in continual evolution, first moving away from cupcakes to more sophisticated and varied sweets, and then transitioning from almost exclusively vegetarian fare to seafood and meat. Now we feature as many non-American recipes as we can get. This week, we return to pasta with a recipe for Pasta alla Puttanesca (always remember the “-esc-a,” or you’ll end up saying something not so pretty) from freelance writer and photographer Linda Xiao. This is one of those recipes that I never tire of eating. A foodie’s cupboard will almost always be stocked with these items, so I imagine many of you will be able to throw this together over the weekend. For those of you who don’t have these ingredients already, there’s no time like the present to start stocking them! — Kristina

About Linda: Linda is a New York-based freelance writer and photographer. Last year, in a leap of faith, she threw in the towel at her corporate marketing job in San Francisco, backpacked through South America and moved to Brooklyn, where she now resides. In her spare time, she writes the food blog The Tart Tart, which gives her the perfect excuse to drag her fiancé to all the farmers’ markets in the area.

Photography and styling by Linda Xiao

Read Linda’s recipe after the jump . . .

Pasta alla Puttanesca
Serves 2


  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 14-oz. can of diced or whole tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup olives, pitted and halved
  • 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp capers, drained
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 servings of angel hair
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil, plus more for serving
  • Parmesan cheese for serving



1. In a medium pot, boil water and make pasta.

2. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Add tomatoes and their juices, as well as olives, anchovies, capers, oregano, and red pepper flakes and simmer until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Break up the tomatoes if whole. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Once the pasta is done, drain it and add it back to the pot. Pour the sauce and basil into the same pot and mix well.

5. Serve along with extra basil and Parmesan.

Why Linda Loves This Recipe

At some point every summer, around this time usually, I find myself tiring of the endless salads, sandwiches, and other raw sundries that are the signatures of the season. Instead, I just crave pasta. Which is why I turn to pasta alla puttanesca. This one’s got a little heft, but is by no means a heavy dish. Instead, the sauce is tart and spicy and light, tomato-based with nothing more than a couple glugs of olive oil in it to weigh it down. Also, it comes together super quick, and requires all of about 10 minutes on the stove (most of it spent waiting for pasta water to boil). It’s kind of like the anti-pasta. And it really hits the spot.

Suggested For You


  • Years ago I came across a bit of trivia that said that this dish was favored by the “ladies of the night”, it was quickly made with ingredients you usually had in the cupboard. I think there was a bit more to the sotry, but I don’t remember. This dish is yummy, whatever it’s history! Bon appetit!

  • This is my favorite pasta of all time- I make it almost once a week, usually with tuna instead of anchovies. Also is surprisingly good with brocolli or squash mixed in!

  • I love a good puttanesca and this recipe is bang on. I would say however, that the briny salty slutty taste of a puttanesca is better served by the celeriac tones of a flat leaf parsley than the smokey basil and go easy on the parmesan, fish and cheese are a big Italian no-no. Otherwise, thank you for sharing, I will enjoy this!

  • Thank you for sharing, I´m sorry I may sound critical: a few observations by an Italian:

    – Actually pasta alla puttanesca (a Roman classic) means “lady of the night style pasta”
    – Angel hair spaghetti goes only with broth when you´re sick, I´m from Rome and we go for chunky pasta, like vermicelli.
    – In Italy We never ever mix parmesan with a fish based sauce, maybe there are few exceptions like mussels and pecorino.
    – It is very true: flat parsley goes with fish.
    – There are thousands of tomatoes on this planet, if you don´t have the right ones like fully ripened S.Marzano, please use good quality canned tomatoes.
    – Tuna instead of anchovies is “Pasta al tonno”, which actually in Rome is a X-Mas eve´s classic.
    – When a foreigner comes to Italy it takes him/her a couple of years to approve our strictness with food and to accept that Italian food as you know it does not actually exist: we have thousands and thousands of local/regional foods and recipes.

    Again, thank you for sharing!


    • Excellent! The ‘quick’ part is superfluous as the name itself means it was quick enough to make ‘between customers!
      Italy! Love it, but they like to color between the lines to stay traditional!

  • I just made this tonight for me and my boyfriend, and it was fantastic! Lots of bold flavors and was healthy and light. I tweaked it slightly: I used DeCecco thin spaghetti, and I added a small jar of Rao’s marinara sauce (in addition to the crushed tomatoes).

  • Hi Lia!

    Thanks for sharing with us the details for the traditional Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (san marzano or other high quality tinned tomatoes, capers, olives, anchovies, flat-leaf parsley, spaghetti, NO Parmesan). You are right, we probably should have called it “Puttanesca-inspired pasta”, so as not to offend tradition.

    I’ve lived in Rome for almost twelve years and fully appreciate that there are many Italians, not just Romans, who eat according to certain Italian food ‘rules’. I use quotation marks because while I’ve always been told of the many ‘rules’, no one has ever been able to explain to me -why- and rarely do I see these ‘rules’ being respected by Italians, for example the ‘no fish and cheese’ rule. Roman fried zucchini flowers have mozzarella and anchovies inside, baccala’ alla vicentina is made with milk and parmesan. My Italian husband puts Parmesan on pasta with fish in it. And the list goes on. Just flip through a Slow Food recipe book and you’ll find plenty of fish-based dishes which use Parmesan, ricotta salata, and many other types of cheese, so many recipes that I think it’s hard to talk about rules, especially when, as you say, Italy has thousands and thousands of local/regional food and recipes. The same applies for shapes of pasta, names of recipes, etc. From my time living here, I’ve learned many rules about food and otherwise, but probably my favorite is de gustibus non est disputandum

    Editor, In the Kitchen With

  • Hi Kristina!

    Of course you are right about fish recipes with cheeses and or milk, I was just simplyfing.

    Yes there are “rules” and there is personal , taste, but in the recipe there were a bit too many diversions for carrying that name, as you specified in the first place.

    Having lived in Italy, and knowing so well our food varied food culture you may agree with me that sometimes it is quite disappointing to see people unwittingly “deceive” traditions… With the best intentions of course!

    And I can imagine how irritating it is to endure these Italians “lecturing” about their own food. In you Roman days you have probably assisted to endless discussions between my countrymen about topics like: amatriciana with or without onion? Some even like the egg in “carbonara” well cooked!

    There are also actually many Italians who buy pesto from the shelf and eat frozen food…

    But in 42 years none ever served me (at home or restaurants) “capellini” and boiled oregano tastes bitter (even though millions of recipes have it), I hope you agree.

    Summing up, I think it´s worth talking about names and details, especially with competent interlocutors, thank you again for the opportunity and thank you for sharing the recipe to Linda, really!


  • Hi Lia, thanks very much for your informed observations. I definitely don’t want to be stepping on culinary traditions with the version I list here. Italians definitely have reason to be proud of their cuisine.

    I hope readers experiment and find their own favorite “versions” of this sauce—after all, trial and error is part of the process and joy of coking, isn’t it? I for one should definitely give parsley a try. I’ve never liked it, but maybe I just haven’t been garnishing the right foods with it. :)

  • You´re right Linda, fortunately Design Sponge is all about sharing and reasoning on personal lifestyle experiences.


  • I made this last night, eliminated the olives (my husbands doesn’t like them), added an extra tablespoon of olive oil, used fire-roasted diced tomotoes, and fresh angel hair. We found the dish to be so fantastic it will be a part of our regular weekly meals. I can’t wait to try it with tuna, and flat parsely (especially in winter when the basil dies out).

    Luckily I follow no food rules except what I like, but so interesting to read about that.

    Thanks designsponge, this was a great receipe.

  • One more comment I forgot to mention, always, whenever possible, use organic canned tomatoes!!

  • we made this yesterday for dinner! I swapped out anchovies for anchovie paste, and angel hair for fettucini- and you were right, … I had all these things on hand. Such a simple and delicious meal! Thank you!

  • Hello Kristina,
    I got a little thrill when I read your quote ” de gustibus non est disputandem”, as I have never heard it used outside my own family. It’s the only latin I know, and when used as a kid, it got me out of eating anything I didn’t like! Luckily, it doesn’t apply for me with this recipe….looks fabulous.

  • Hi! i found you through Pinterest. I can’t wait to make this pasta, but I have to ask: What type of black olives are you using? Kalamata?
    Thanks and Bon Appetite!

  • Have you ever tried it with prosciutto and muffuletta the salty and olive mix is perfect for this dish

  • Am making this tomorrow night…would love to be able to print just the recipe

  • In Italy traditionally one would not add cheese to pasta dishes that use red pepper (peperoncino).