My mom first started making Pasta Puttanesca in 1992. She was living in New York City for graduate school while my dad worked full-time in advertising. Reminiscing over her time spent studying abroad in Venice, she wanted to recreate the homestyle cooking she experienced in trattorias and osterias around the city. Her problem: limited time and resources.

Strapped for rent, room and brain-space, their apartment on the Upper East Side was far from the famous canals and the historic Piazza San Marco.

Stephanie Shields

Despite the obstacles, one of her favorite dishes, served at the Taverna san Trovaso, fit the bill for an easy weeknight meal: Spaghetti alla Puttanesca. She found a recipe for the Southern Italian classic in the Silver Palate cookbook, a sacred text for ambitious home cooks in the 90s.

Bursting with anchovies, olives, capers, red pepper and garlic, the result was a salty, tangy, rich plate of satisfying noodles. When paired with a cold bottle of Pinot Grigio, this Puttanesca was off the charts. 

For thirty years, Pasta Puttanesca has remained a nightly staple in my household; always there after a long day of school, work, practice or rehearsal. Now, as a college student, it remains one of my to-go comfort foods when I need a meal in a pinch.

My dad loves it because it’s healthy and fast; my sisters love it because it has olives and capers (which I didn’t enjoy until high school); my mom loves it because it reminds her of her travels in Italy. Now, I love it because it gives me a taste of home. 

And no, the anchovies are not optional.

Pantry Pasta Puttanesca

  • Prep Time:15 mins
  • Cook Time:20 mins
  • Total Time:35 mins
  • Servings:4
  • Medium


  • 6 anchovy filets finely chopped
  • cup capers drained
  • cup pitted Kalamata olives coarsely chopped
  • cup parsley coarsely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp concentrated tomato paste
  • 1 28-oz can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 5 oz can oil-packed tuna
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 oz finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
  • 16 oz / 1 pound dried spaghetti or other long pasta
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Stephanie Shields
  • Step 1

    Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and cook garlic and anchovy filets until anchovies have partially dissolved and garlic is lightly golden.

  • Step 2

    Stir in olives, capers, red pepper flakes and tomato paste, cooking until tomato paste is slightly darkened and starts to stick into the bottom of the pan.

  • Step 3

    Add freshly ground pepper and crushed tomatoes. Let simmer for 2-3 minutes.

  • Step 4

    Cook spaghetti in a medium pot of salted water to package instructions until al dente.

  • Step 5

    Transfer pasta to skillet along with 4 tablespoons of pasta water and toss vigorously to combine.

  • Step 6

    Stir in Parmigiano Reggiano and canned tuna, breaking up the tuna into smaller pieces. Finish with butter and half of parsley. Taste and season with salt if necessary– the pasta may already be fairly salty due to the capers, anchovies, olives and Parmigiano Reggiano.

  • Step 7

    Divide among bowls and serve with additional chopped parsley, Parmigiano Reggiano and black pepper, to taste.