Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Simple Supper: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

My favorite canned olives are green Spanish olives stuffed with anchovies.  They come in a tall thinnish can and seem to taste the same, regardless of the brand.  You can't really taste the anchovies but they give a delicious "unami" flavor to the olives.  I generally keep a can or two in the cupboard to whip out if guests drop by for a drink.

This zesty pasta has the same "cupboard" mentality because all of the ingredients can usually be found in a well stocked larder. While most recipes for this famous dish use canned tomatoes, I prefer to use fresh ones, even in the winter when tomatoes are not that great. It makes the dish a bit lighter in flavor but by all means, use canned if fresh is unavailable or too fiddly for you.  You can also leave out the thyme and the dish will still taste great.  But if you can be bothered, the fresh thyme sprinkled on top adds a herbal note which contrasts nicely with the vinegary flavors of the olives and capers.

In the summer, this dish tastes fresh but comforting while in the winter, the zesty flavors lift tired palates. So basically, you are good to go, year round.

Serves 4
500 grams spaghetti or other pasta
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
8 medium ripe tomatoes
300 grams olives*
4 tablespoons drained capers
salt and pepper to taste
red pepper flakes, if desired
pinch of sugar if necessary
olive oil

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.  While the water is heating, start the sauce. Chop the tomatoes with the skins on.  Chop the onion and garlic finely. Chop the thyme.

Add a generous glob of olive oil to a frying pan and turn on the
heat to medium.  Add the onions and garlic and saute for a couple of minutes until translucent.  Add the chopped tomatoes and thyme.  Season with a bit of salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, if you are using them.  Stir and let it cook until the tomatoes start to break down.  Taste and adjust the salt and pepper.  If the mixture starts to look a bit dry, you can add a dash of water or a bit more olive oil. If the tomatoes are not very flavorful, you can add a pinch of sugar to bring out some sweetness.While the tomatoes are cooking, chop the capers and olives.

When the water for the pasta is boiling, add a generous tablespoon or two of salt and add the pasta.  Bring the water back up to boiling, stirring occassionally and cook the number of minutes that is stated on the packet.  When the pasta is done, take a cup of the cooking water and set aside, and then drain the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, add the capers and olives to the tomato sauce.  Stir and simmer for a minute.  Taste and check your seasoning.  If you like it a bit more zesty, you can add some of the juice from the olives or capers.  Let the sauce simmer until the pasta is cooked.  Toss the sauce and the hot pasta together, adding a bit of the pasta water if it looks to dry. Serve with hot, topped with parmesan cheese and a bit of chopped fresh thyme on top.

*If not using olives stuffed with anchovies, add 4 anchovies, finely chopped, with the tomatoes at the beginning.

No comments: