Penne puttanesca is a variation of the traditional spaghetti alla puttanesca, a traditional Neapolitan pasta dish that’s quick to make with just a few pantry staples. The extremely fragrant sauce makes it an excellent speedy meal for those days you want a treat and you want it now.
Penne alla puttanesca is one of those classic Italian pasta dishes that are ready super quickly without compromising one bit on flavour.
Made with crushed tomatoes, anchovies, capers and Kalamata olives, puttanesca sauce is so simple, yet so good.
Fun fact: pasta alla puttanesca roughly translates as "whore's pasta" and that's because it's made with such simple and cheap ingredients, it was the meal of choice for Italian women who had to work the streets.
Puttanesca is usually made with spaghetti but works great with short pasta too. I make puttanesca with penne most of the time, but this is a very versatile sauce that’s perfect with lots of pasta shapes. You can even make it into gnocchi puttanesca!
Apart from the pasta shape, this is an authentic puttanesca recipe. The sauce is made with garlic, red chilli flakes, salted capers, anchovies in oil, peeled tomatoes crushed by hand, black olives and fresh parsley. This is absolutely all you need for the perfect puttanesca sauce.
Why you’ll love this easy penne puttanesca recipe
- It’s ready in under 30 minutes. You can easily make the puttanesca sauce in the time it takes to bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta.
- The flavours are unmistakable. The mix of anchovies, capers and olives packs quite an aromatic punch.
- You can make it with a handful of pantry staple ingredients. This is one of those dishes that you can whip up with things that you likely already have in the house.
Ingredients and substitutions
Garlic — Some versions of puttanesca are made by frying a whole garlic clove for a couple of minutes in olive oil and then removing it before adding the anchovies. I personally like the garlic in the sauce, so I chop it roughly before adding it to the pan.
Red chilli flakes — Adjust the amount of red chilli flakes as needed or skip it altogether if you don’t want the sauce to have a bit of a kick.
Anchovies — You only need about six anchovy filets to get that savoury flavour that’s specific to puttanesca. Cook them until they’re almost completely dissolved.
Capers — These add a briny aroma to the sauce and compliment the anchovy flavour beautifully. Just drain them but don’t rinse to preserve that briny goodness.
Olives — I used kalamata olives in this sauce, but any quality black olives would do.
Parsley — A handful of freshly chopped parsley added right at the end will add some freshness and brightness to the sauce.
How to make penne puttanesca
Cook the pasta al dente in salted water according to the instructions on the package.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, deep pan and add the garlic and red chilli flakes. Cook for 1-2 minutes over low-medium heat until the garlic starts to change its colour (make sure it doesn’t burn).
Add the anchovies and capers and continue to cook until the anchovies are almost completely melted.
Stir in the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce thickens.
Once the sauce has thickened, stir in the olives and parsley, then transfer the cooked pasta to the pan. Toss well to combine.
Add the fresh basil leaves, season to taste and serve immediately.
Recipe notes and tips
- Penne alla puttanesca is best served immediately. If you have any leftovers, they will keep well in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. You can reheat them in the microwave.
- Don’t salt the pasta water too generously. The sauce has plenty of salt from the anchovies, capers and olives.
- The sauce will look watery when you add the pasta to it, but it will tighten up as you toss the pasta for a minute over low-medium heat. Adding a bit of starchy pasta water will help the sauce reach the right consistency.
If you liked this penne puttanesca recipe, you might also like some of my other easy pasta recipes:
- Easy Chicken Pesto Pasta
- Easy Kielbasa Pasta
- Tuna Red Pesto Pasta
- Pasta e Piselli (Pasta and Peas)
- Creamy Chicken Piccata Pasta
- 300 g (10.5 oz) penne
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- ½ teaspoon red chilli flakes
- 6 anchovy fillets
- 30 g (⅓ cup) capers, drained
- 2 x 400 g (14 oz) cans chopped tomatoes
- 50 g (½ cup) Kalamata olives
- A handful fresh parsley
- 6-8 fresh basil leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Cook the pasta al dente in salted water according to the instructions on the package.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large, deep pan and add the garlic and red chilli flakes. Cook for 1-2 minutes over low-medium heat until the garlic starts to change its colour (make sure it doesn’t burn).
- Add the anchovies and capers and continue to cook until the anchovies are almost completely melted.
- Stir in the chopped tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce thickens.
- Once the sauce has thickened, stir in the olives and parsley, then transfer the cooked pasta to the pan. Toss well to combine.
- Add the fresh basil leaves, season to taste and serve immediately.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 265Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 5mgSodium: 498mgCarbohydrates: 34gFiber: 5gSugar: 6gProtein: 9g
Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator.