Perfect Pasta Puttanesca, Put Together from the Pantry

January 31, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’m trying to master the skill of  creating a delicious meal composed entirely from what is on hand.  Not an ‘odds and ends’ dinner, but one that seems intentional and well-considered.  The folks at my dinner table might think I went to the store and carefully selected each ingredient to craft this special meal, just for them.

In an effort to waste less and flex my cooking muscles, I’ve been challenging myself to use up stuff. I’m sure this experiment will come to a grinding halt at the first sign of Spring, when fresh food will be plentiful and irresistible.  But yesterday, I knew just what to do with the giant jar of olives that I uncovered in my cupboard.  And the capers. And the canned tomatoes.

I had seen magic worked with these humble ingredients before.  Five years ago my family took a trip with our dear friends, JM & John, to a cabin in the snowy woods.  Sledding with toddlers is overrated, really. After we had gotten the little ones dressed for the snow, undressed to go pee, dressed for the snow again, and thrown a snowball or two, we decided to call it a day and go inside to watch movies.   Four grown-ups and three children under the age of 4 all snuggled up in a little two bedroom house.  Time passed (very slowly) and JM decided to prepare dinner.  She pulled out the ingredients and I eagerly leaned over the counter to see the elements of what I knew would be a very good dinner.  Her dinners are always very good.  There were some jars, a package of dried pasta, a lemon and a head of garlic.  In the back of my mind I had my doubts, I can admit that now.  I should have known better.

Pasta Puttanesca was in my repertoire, but JM’s version is far superior.  My admiration is without snark or sarcasm (although she may contribute some of each in the ‘comments’ section).  The sauce clings to each piece of penne, slicking it with oil that is infused with garlic, tomato, and an unholy amount of anchovy.  Although the recipe calls for way more anchovy than seems reasonable this sauce doesn’t taste fishy – there is just flavor in every corner of your bowl thanks to those chovies.  Briny olives and capers are tamed by the biggest surprise ingredient – lemon wedges squeezed into the sauce as it finishes cooking. When you’re slurping down your Puttanesca, squeeze the last drops of lemon juice into your bowl to addd even more brightness to the sauce.

Pasta Puttanesca

Serves 4

8 -12 fillets anchovy in olive oil

3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced

½ tsp dried marjoram (optional)

pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Olive oil from anchovies + extra virgin olive oil to equal 1/2C

28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and broken up into pieces by squeezing with your hands or chopping with a knife

1.5C briny olives, cut in ½ lengthwise

1/4C capers

1 lemon (a Meyer lemon, if possible), cut into 8 wedges

1 lb penne rigate

1. Add the anchovies, the olive oil from the anchovy jar and the extra virgin oil to a large skillet.  Heat to medium low and cook for 10 minutes, breaking up the anchovies with a spatula until they ‘melt’ into a paste.  Avoid letting the anchovy bits crisp.

2.  Add the garlic (and the pepper and marjoram if you’re using them) and cook for 5 more minutes.  If the ingredients in the skillet start to brown, turn down the heat.

3. Add the tomatoes carefully to the skillet (the hot oil may splatter). Bring to a boil and then simmer the sauce for 20 minutes.

4. Bring a pot of water to boil, and cook the penne according to package directions

5.  Add the olives and capers to the sauce. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Squeeze each lemon wedge and add it to the sauce, then simmer for another few minutes.

6. Drain the pasta and stir it into the sauce.  Serve with grated parmesan at the table.

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