The origin of pasta alla puttanesca

30 March 2015

The origins of some dishes are lost in the mists of time, while others have a veritable plethora of stories telling how they were created. One of these is the classic Italian dish spaghetti alla puttanesca. Its name would appear to leave little room for doubt, but there are several different interpretations. The most widespread version is that this quick and easy dish—which could be whipped up in no time using ingredients in any Italian panty—was a popular snack with Neapolitan prostitutes between jobs, as well as a way of seducing punters.

So, this dish made with tomato, anchovies, capers and black olives was a means of seduction, albeit initially with the stomach in mind. Whatever the case, the dish spread like wildfire throughout Italy and abroad.

Today you can find spaghetti or penne alla puttanesca on the menu in restaurants throughout the world, not just ones specialising in Italian fare. Several Italian regions have made the recipe their own, including Campania and Lazio, where they stress the addition of anchovies to the original recipe.

The motley collection of other stories includes the startling suggestion that the smell of anchovies, or that it was the typical dish in Italian restaurants in the 1950s, when they were generally housed on the ground floor of brothels, with the shutters pulled down to ensure maximum discretion.

Another current of thought suggests that alla puttanesca refers to its spicy flavour, in an ironic or literal nod to the oldest profession in the world.

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