My one absolute go-to pasta dish for easy weeknight meals is pasta puttanesca. I could eat this sauce with a spoon, any day of the week, with nothing but a loaf of crusty bread to mop up the deliciously salty, briny puddles.
Since one cannot eat bread for every single meal of the day (or so I’ve been told), I buy really good pasta to toss it with. It’s a fair agreement I made with myself, even though these seemingly simple shapes* cost a fortune.
In case you were wondering: Yes, they’re worth it. Unless you make your own pasta on a busy weeknight, which makes you a (slightly insane) champion.
I think a good pasta puttanesca is easily a year-round dish, but with plenty of fresh tomatoes on the market during summer I sometimes feel a little… Uninspired? By making dishes with jarred ones.
I picked up a jar of anchovies the other day and since both capers and black olives are considered their own food group in our home, I had everything for our favorite meal on hand.
I pulled out the jar of pelati sitting in the bottom drawer of my European-style openly accessible pantry (this is the fancy way to tell someone you don’t have a pantry, but store your staples in a couple of kitchen drawers) – and stared at it.
No. I couldn’t. So many fresh tomatoes on hand – and I’m reaching for the jar?
You could say it doesn’t really matter these days, since we can buy both jarred and fresh tomatoes all year long now – but I’d argue that one should really stick to summer produce when it is at its peak. And make the most of it while it lasts!
This recipe isn’t a compromise. It’s not settling on using fresh tomatoes because you’d otherwise feel guilty about forgoing them while they’re in season.
It is a completely new and interesting dish, but with the same incredible flavors of the traditional Italian recipe.
In fact, I believe this pasta dinner is so good it should become your new summer tradition. Though its real secret doesn’t just lie in the fresh tomatoes, it lies in the way each ingredient is added to the dish to create not only flavor, but also texture.
In an effort of full disclosure, I feel compelled to acknowledge the sun-dried tomatoes I’m using. Didn’t she just ramble on and on about using fresh tomatoes…?
True, but I felt like adding another layer of flavor and the tomatoes were smiling at me. They do take the recipe from great to dancing naked on the kitchen table – so forgive me.
From those very same hypocritical dried tomatoes, you’ll use some oil, together with oil from the anchovies, to sweat your ingredients in. This adds a vast amount of extra flavor. Never waste your oils from preserves, there’s too much goodness in there!
The capers go in chopped to distribute their pungent flavor into every bite. Olives are torn, stone removed (because you’re using whole, stone-in olives in brine, right?!) and used in large chunks. The sun-dried tomatoes are cut into slivers, the anchovies are left whole.
Yes, you can leave them whole. They will dissolve and melt into the sauce as it cooks, creating a wonderful flavor all the way through in what you could call the lazy way – but I prefer calling it the smart way.
A dash of fresh herbs, a little bit of (again, hypocritical, but also critical) tomato paste, some cooking water from your pasta. And then another secret ingredient: A couple of tablespoons from the olive brine, adding a deep saltiness, almost as if the sea breeze had blown over your dish.
The pound of fresh cherry tomatoes, which you can halve or quarter as you like, is lightly marinated in fresh herbs and a decent balsamic vinegar.
Don’t buy the creamy, sugary, additive laden stuff (if you like that, buy Vincotto instead). Investing in a good, aged balsamico is like investing in a good bottle of wine – trust me.
Finally, toss the finished sauce with the just al dente pasta, the marinated tomatoes and serve with a good chunk of creamy fresh cheese on top.
We love goat cheese, but ricotta (or even burrata) would work quite well. I know it feels more natural to add parmesan or pecorino (and here’s a tomato pasta perfect for it), but on a warm summer evening you’ll appreciate the fresh creaminess against the deep and almost moody flavors of the sauce and the acidity of the fresh tomatoes.
By the way, I’m not going to call you out if you eat this summery puttanesca sauce with bread. Been there, done that.
Pasta Puttanesca Recipe with Fresh Tomatoes
For the Marinated Tomatoes
- 1 pound fresh cherry tomatoes halved or quartered (or a mix of both)
- Fresh oregano chopped, and thyme leaves
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
For the Pasta and Sauce
- 12 ounces pasta
- 1 tablespoon oil from the dried tomatoes
- 1/2 tablespoon oil from the anchovies
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 4 tablespoons capers chopped
- 3 tablespoons black olives torn
- 5 sundried tomatoes slivered
- 2 ounces anchovy fillets
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1/2 cup pasta cooking water
- 2 tablespoons olive brine
- a sprig each of fresh oregano and thyme
- Salt pepper
- 6-8 tablespoons fresh cheese such as a creamy goat cheese
Make the Marinated Tomatoes
- Place the tomatoes in a medium bowl and salt generously. Let them sit for 5 minutes, then lightly squeeze them and loosely drain (don't try to dry them out, just get rid of the excess water). Mix with the fresh oregano and thyme and the balsamic vinegar and marinate until the rest of the dish is ready.
Make the Pasta
- Boil water for the pasta and cook it according to package directions.
- In the meantime, place both oils in a large skillet and heat them over medium hight heat. Add the garlic, capers, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and anchovies and sweat, stirring as little as possible, until fragrant and sizzling.
- Add the tomato pasta and cook for a minute, or until it's starting to roast. Pour in the pasta cooking water (I just ladle it over from the boiling pot) and the olive brine. Add the sprigs of herb, reduce the heat to a light simmer and cook until the sauce has thickened.
- Toss with the cooked pasta and marinated tomatoes, taste for seasoning, then serve with a fresh cheese.
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