Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce – Alla Puttanesca!

Robin Boyle Entree, From the Archives, Herbs and Spices, Italian, Recipe, Vegetables

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(This post is based on an article we wrote for Club Marine magazine in 1997. Use the Print button at the top of this page for a hard copy or pdf of the recipe in this post.)

At this time of the year – late summer in Australia – you may have plenty of tomatoes and basil in your garden or in pots on the terrace. This recipe is a perfect way to use up some of the surplus. It is perfect for a warm day. If you don’t grow your own, you should be able to find lovely ripe tomatoes at the markets or greengrocer. The original recipe calls for ripe red tomatoes but use what you have on hand, including coloured cherry tomatoes. And don’t be scared to use the recommended amount of garlic.

Bugialli’s Pasta Alla Puttanesca

Giuliano Bugialli is one of our favourite authors on Italian food and here we include his recipe for pasta alla puttanesca. You will find plenty of recipes for pasta alla puttanesca, which means pasta in the style of a prostitute, or, presumably, a style of pasta made by prostitutes. The recipes vary remarkably, probably telling us that prostitutes across Italy have a varied diet. Bugialli’s version is disarmingly easy but gives sensational results. It will become one of your standby recipes, for a pasta course, or as a salad. For a pasta course, serve it immediately the sauce is combined with the hot pasta. As a salad for a barbecue or similar, try to make it as late as you can and serve warm or at room temperature.

In “The Fine Art of Italian Cooking”, this is what Bugialli says about his pasta alla puttanesca:

“The most perfect of all summer pasta dishes, for freshness and for lightness. Everything in the sauce – tomatoes, basil, and olive oil – is uncooked. The fresh, summery ingredients must be made very cold (even left for a few minutes in the freezer), and then quickly tossed with the steaming pasta, just out of the boiling water. The contact of the very hot with the very cold releases an unforgettable flavour; this dish should be a real discovery for many people. A substantial pasta, shaped to catch some of the sauce, is called for.”

Try this recipe exactly as is before you attempt to vary it; we sometimes use more tomato and basil. Fresh tomatoes do not have to be peeled or deseeded. An equivalent volume of tinned tomatoes, drained and chopped could be substituted for fresh ones. Use pasta shells, penne or spiralli to catch the sauce.

Ingredients (for four)
  • 500g very ripe tomatoes, cut into small pieces
  • 4 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 25 large leaves basil
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 250g dried pasta
Method

Add the tomatoes and garlic to a bowl. Tear the basil leaves into thirds and add to the tomatoes along with the oil and plenty of salt and pepper, to taste. Combine, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours to chill well. If necessary place in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

When ready to eat, cook the pasta according to instructions. Drain well, place in a serving bowl. Immediately pour the cold sauce over the hot pasta, toss briefly and serve immediately. (Do not add parmesan cheese.)

Equipment: Bowls for the sauce and for tossing the pasta.

Difficulty: Not difficult (2/5), five to ten minutes preparation.

Serve: Serves four as a pasta course or entree.