Authentic Italian Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Recipe

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This easy and Authentic Italian Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Recipe takes only 20 minutes to prepare. It is rich in flavor with little effort. Made with a few pantry staples, you can eat like an Italian restaurant at home!

Read What to Serve with Spaghetti to know more about recipes that pair well with spaghetti recipes!

Spaghetti alla puttanesca on a plate
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Ingredients for Italian Pasta alla Puttanesca Recipe

  • Olive oil
  • Onion
  • Shallot
  • Garlic cloves
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Crushed tomatoes (San marzano tomatoes are a great option)
  • Anchovy fillets (you can also use anchovy paste, or leave it out if it’s not your taste)
  • Pitted black olives
  • Capers
  • Spaghetti
  • Fresh parsley, for garnish
Spaghetti alla puttanesca in a bowl with a fork.

How to make spaghetti alla puttanesca (step by Step)

Pasta alla puttanesca requires little time and will coon be one of your favorite pasta recipes!

Here is how to make it step by step:

Making the puttanesca sauce:

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and shallot, lightly fry for 8-10 mins, or until soft. Add the garlic and chilli, if using, and cook for another minute.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes, anchovies, olives and capers into the onion, bring to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for 10 mins. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spaghetti alla Puttanesca ingredients in a pan.
Make the sauce

Boiling the spaghetti pasta

  1. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the spaghetti following the packet  instructions until al dente, then drain and reserve 1/3 cup of pasta water. Add the pasta water to the sauce and stir to combine.
Boiling spaghetti.
Boil your spaghetti

Making pasta the correct way:

  1. Stir occasionally with the proper utensil (our custom-made wooden spoons) to keep the pasta from sticking. Read How Long to Boil Spaghetti (pasta)- Perfect Every Time to cook the best pasta!

Finish the pasta dish:

Toss pasta with the sauce. Add parsley for garnish and serve hot. Mangia! (Eat!)

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca being stirred with a spoon.
Add the hot pasta to the sauce

Variations to puttanesca sauce

This simple and delicious pasta dish is fantastic as is without additional toppings. If you crave a more hearty dish try adding a good quality canned tuna or salmon for an extra protein boost.

Wine – add a splash of white wine at the end of cooking to enhance the flavor of the sauce

Olives – you can also use kalamata olives for this recipe!

Try roasting your own cherry tomatoes to use in the sauce.

Authentic Pasta Puttanesca on a plate


What is puttanesca sauce?

Puttanesca is a tomato based sauce that also contains anchovies, capers and olives, and red pepper flakes to add a bit of heat. Crushed red pepper flakes make things even better.

How long does spaghetti last in the fridge?

Most pastas last in the fridge for 3–5 days. Before storing the cooked pasta or leftovers let the pasta cool slightly. Make sure to use a proper airtight containers for storage.

Can I substitute or omit the anchovies in this recipe?

The best substitute for anchovies varies by dish. Substitutes include fish sauce, shrimp paste, sardines, soy sauce, or miso. The only one I would recommend for this recipe is a bit of Worcestershire sauce (the amount to your liking). If I’m being honest, I will tell you that the taste of anchovies is not strong in this recipe. It creates more of an unami flavor that complements the sauce and pairs well with the taste of capers and olives. I would definitely try this recipe with the anchovy to try something new! I bet you will acquire a new appreciation for the taste.

Where does Spaghetti alla Puttanesca get its’ name?

Well, the name isn’t pretty, or appropriate for that matter! As stated in the OED, puttanesca literally translates to, “a characteristic of a prostitute,”. I found this explanation, in Italy Magazine, to describe the different possible origins of the popular Italian dish: There is a theory that the dish was invented in one of many bordellos in the Naples working-class neighborhood of Quartieri Spagnoli. The explanations for the origin of puttanesca are many, just as the sources and scholars who have tried to trace the first inventive chef who began to call this spicy dish ‘puttanesca’. Originally, it was called ‘alla marinara’; the current name began to appear after World War II. Some say that the name originated in the brothels of the Spanish Quarters (whore is puttana in Italian, hence puttanesca).
Some argue that, the modern name of this preparation refers to pasta ‘prepared as it comes’, that is, easy to cook, without frills or complicated preparation.
Source: Italy Magazine

Can I use a different pasta in this recipe?

Long Pasta Shapes Like Spaghetti, Bucatini, Capellini and Spaghettini. These long strands are best paired with this rich tomato based sauce. Read more about what pasta shapes go best with which sauce here. The thick sauce will coat the strands evenly and won’t get weighed down when wound up with a fork. Can you use short pasta for this recipe? Yes, absolutely. Use what you have on hand. I love this sauce with long pasta, but feel free to change it to your preference.

Expert Tips

  • When it comes to making Authentic Italian Spaghetti alla Puttanesca Sauce, there is one “rule” that everyone knows: No Parmigiano cheese. Italians don’t use cheese on seafood pasta dishes, and since there are anchovies in the dish, this is a big no-no. One more thing- no basil! 
  • Make sure to put the garlic in at the end of the first step (lightly frying the onions and shallots) and do not burn it. Burnt garlic is bitter and can ruin the whole dish!
  • Cook your pasta to the perfect al dente by following my guide here. Boiling your pasta for too long will make it mushy.
  • Toss the pasta with the sauce instead of just spooning it on top of the noodles. This will allow the pasta to soak up the sauce and give it a stronger flavor.

Storage and Reheating Instructions

What to serve with Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

This delicious pasta recipe is filling all on its own. All you need is some delicious Italian bread and a simple salad. If you want to go all out- serve these as an appetizer Best Italian Zucchini Fritters (easy recipe)!

If you want to serve an appetizer try: Crispy Calamari Air Fryer Recipe, or King Crab Salad Recipe .

Don’t forget dessert! Try Simple Italian Apple Cake (one bowl), Classic Italian Tiramisu Recipe, or BEST Authentic Sicilian Cannoli Recipe.

You will also love this nostalgic and classic recipe: Fried Spaghetti Recipe with Leftover Pasta. Or this Authentic Pasta Alla Gricia Recipe.

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SIMPLE Mashed Potatoes (dairy free) and Caramelized Onions

Creamy Parmigiano Herb and Mushroom Chicken

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Pasta in a bowl with a fork

Have you checked out my NEW CBE PRODUCTS? Take a look at the 2-in-1 cutting and charcuterie board, gorgeous apron, and unique pasta server that you that you absolutely need. The wood products are all handmade in Salt Lake City, Utah. They make great gifts as well!

This pasta puttanesca recipe takes minutes to prepare, and that’s one of the secrets of its’ success. It is a no fuss meal with pantry staples that tastes amazing.

💙 MADE THIS RECIPE AND LOVED IT? 💙 Please leave a ⭐️STAR rating and COMMENT below- I love connecting with you! Tag me with your creations on Instagram and find me on Pinterest.

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Authentic Pasta Puttanesca in a big bowl

Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca Recipe

5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

4.8 from 6 reviews

This easy 20 minute pasta meal is rich in flavor with little effort. Spaghetti alla puttanesca is an Italian pasta dish invented in Naples in the mid twentieth century and made typically with tomatoes, olive oil, olives, chili peppers, capers, and garlic—with spaghetti pasta. It is a savory meal with lots of Italian flavors you are sure to love! 

  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x


  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped 
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 5 anchovy fillets, finely chopped OR 1 tablespoon anchovy paste (you can leave it out)
  • 1/2 cup, pitted black olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 lb dried spaghetti or long pasta of choice 
  • ½ small bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped for garnish
  • Salt to taste


  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium heat. Add the onion and shallot, lightly fry for 8-10 mins, or until soft. Add the garlic and chilli, if using, and cook for another minute.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes, anchovies, olives and capers into the onion, bring to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered, for 10 mins. Season to taste.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Salt generously with salt. Cook the spaghetti following packet instructions until al dente, then drain and reserve 1/3 cup of pasta water. Add the pasta water to the sauce and stir to combine.
  4. Toss pasta with the sauce. Add parsley for garnish and serve hot. Mangia! (Eat!)
  • Author: Elena Davis
  • Prep Time: 5 min
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Savory
  • Method: Italian
  • Cuisine: Italian

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About Elena

My dream is to share delicious wholesome recipes that you will share around the table with all your loved ones. The memories surrounded by food are the heart and soul of CucinaByElena.

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Recipe rating 5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star


  1. First let me say I am Italian. But, sorry to say i dislike anchovies and eggplant Believe me I have tried. can I make this recipe without the dreaded anchovy??

  2. A great approximation, but you can NOT call the anchovies “optional”. They’re an essential part of a puttanesca sauce!!!

    1. So, you are giving 4 stars because I gave an “option”? Please read the recipe post and also try the recipe before leaving a star rating. I work very hard to create authentic Italian recipes and Google judges them based on star reviews. Thanks.

  3. This is truly an amazing recipe! It’s so delicious, super easy to make, full of goodness and is really light. It’s so delicious I can’t wait to make it again. Thank you for the recipe Elena🌟😋🌟

  4. Absolutely delicious!!! I just know I will be making this again and again. I love how much flavor there is even though it’s so easy to make!