Challenge this morning: write a blog post in twenty minutes!
I was having a twitter discussion with @veritychambers about pasta recipes last night and she challenged me to post my version of the classic pasta, Pasta Puttanesca.
First things first: With food it is important to understand the history and background of a dish before getting into it. Many dishes have a background or are honouring an event or are a direct reflection of their region. The Puttanesca is an urban pasta, and the title is part of the story. The name is derived from Puttana, which means “whore” in Italian. So the dish would be directly translated as Whorish Pasta, or Pasta of Whores. In Italian, even swearing can sound delicate!
So the story goes, the cook of said pasta, has spent the entire day with her lover and has missed the marketing time to buy ingredients for her hubby’s dinner, since any “good” wife would be down the markets each day, morning preferably, to shop for dinner ingredients. Enveloped in the passions of the day, she rushes home and needs something savory, and strongly flavoured, to mask the scent of lovemaking surrounding her, as well as trying to create something exotic and original from the ingredients in her pantry.
Hence the heavy salt and fire in the dish: garlic, anchovies, capers, chilli peppers, black olives, parmesan….
Here we go:
First off, no egg noodles. She hadn’t time to make them so it will be “pasta asciutta”, dry pasta, (or pasta’sciutta, as my mom would say) which would have been in the pantry. In fact all these ingredients are traditional pantry staples, just like you’d always try to keep some salt and oil and basics stocked up, these are always available in a typical urban Italian cupboard.
It’s also got to be easy and fast to make, she probably has just got the water in the pot before her husband has arrived home. Most of the ingredients may not even have time to be chopped. The olives may be unpitted, used whole, the anchovies quickly broken up on a plate with a fork, the garlic hastily and unevenly sliced. It has to look hurried and uneven, IMHO.
I’m assuming you know how to cook pasta (Big pot, plenty of water, drop of salt, no oil, enough room to stir). I like spaghetti or spaghettoni for this one, as the dish has small ingredients and a healthy amount of virgin (nyuk-nyuk) olive oil in it. Once the pasta has been added to the boiling water, and it has come back to the boil, and you’ve given it a good stir to separate the individual noodles, you’re ready for the flavour explosion. The pasta will take around 12 minutes or so and the “sauce” about 6-8 minutes, so you have a few minutes to roughly chop and find all these ingredients in the cupboard.
Start with a warm-hot pan and some olive oil, which will also make the dressing, since there is no sauce, per se. The roughly and hastily chopped garlic is in first, So the house smells of it and masks the smell of her lover. I also like the garlic to end up a little burnt around the edges. makes it a little crispy, And adds to the sense of haste and anxiety. After the garlic softens, two minutes or so, add the anchovies and chillies to soften and warm them, and a minute or two later, the capers, and black olives, which only need to be warmed, not cooked.
If she’s feeling particularly, guilty she’ll have bough some baby tomatoes or dig out some sun-dried tomatoes to colour it up and ask forgiveness, but definitely no fresh herbs or fresh veg or cream, It’s firey, savory, salty and oily!
If the pasta is now cooked, it’s drained and back in the pot it was cooked in and the ingredients added to it, or the other way round if your pan is big enough. I often hold back a bit of cooked pasta to swish round the pan to ensure I have mopped everything up. Swirl the pasta around till it’s absoebed all that oliy goodness and scrape the sides, to ensure you’ve gathered it all up.
The cheese I like to be shaved and scattered over the top, looking like crumbled roof slates or abandoned furniture.
Need I say it, You need a big wine to go with this! No delicate Semillion I’m afraid, Tempranillio or Shiraz I recon.
There you go, Pasta Puttanesca di Giuseppe!
Checked with my food expert, @pistachiowrites, who tells a different story, and she should know, having contributed to both The Food Encyclopedia and The Cook’s Essential Kitchen Dictionary and is known to have whipped up a few hundred Pasta Puttanescas herself.
The Puttanesca is a pasta a Puttana pulls together at 4am, after an evening of hard work.
It’s considered a pantry pasta, which would include tomato [passata, conserva], since that’s pretty standard, too.
So my no sauce rule, doesn’t gel with her research. So be it… As with music, there’s the score, and then there’s the playing of the score…
What’s your version like?