Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The History of Puttanesca Sauce

You learn something new every day.  I recently learned the origins of Puttanesca Sauce.  I had seen lots of variations of the sauce.  I've never personally made it because I don't like olives or capers.  Therefore I don't think anyone in my household should like them either.  My Kitchen, My Rules.  Even if it isn't a dish I care for, I'm always interested in the history of food and how recipes evolve or get their name. 

To put it bluntly, Puttana in Italian means "whore."  Whore Sauce?  WHAT!?!
That one sparked my attention, my imagination and my curiosity.  Why would one of the most beloved pasta sauces literally translate to whore sauce?

When I looked into the history of Puttanesca Sauce, I found a couple of different explanations surrounding the name:

One story claims that at the end of the evening, the prostitutes would come begging at local restaurants for leftovers.  This sauce was made of all leftover ingredients.   If there was sauce on the stove, anything that may be going bad was put into the simmering sauce.

According to one story, the name purportedly comes from the fact that the intense fragrance of this sauce was like a siren's call to the men who visited such "ladies of pleasure."

Another version claims the origin of the sauce was created when the prostitutes needed to make something speedy and nutritious between appointments.  A lady of the evening could cook the sauce in the time it took her to take care of a client and enjoy it while recovering from her activities.

No matter the true origin, the sauce is generally served over some type of pasta, usually spaghetti.  It typically contains a combination of tomatoes, onions, capers, black olives, anchovies and garlic, all cooked together in olive oil.

And now you know!  The next time you order something alla puttanesca at an Italian restaurant, you can chuckle to yourself.  Better yet, invite someone you don't like over for dinner.  Serve them Puttanesca Sauce.  You can enjoy the last laugh on that one.  Unless they happen to speak Italian!


  1. Great story. I have never heard of this sauce. Must get out more! :)

  2. Thanks! And welcome to The Devilish Dish!

  3. My family and I are just addicted to Puttanesca Sauce. It is not that easy to find in the grocery stores, though we did find it tonight at our local Jewel. I usually get my sauce from Homegoods, Marshals or TJ Maxx.

  4. That's good to know about Marshall's and TJ Maxx. (We don't have Homegoods here) but you are right, it's hard to find in the grocery stores. Thanks for the tip Linda!!

  5. I heard that is was because the whores were not allowed in the public market on Sundays, so they had to make sauce with what they had in the pantry...olives, capers, anchovies, etc.

  6. That sounds like a good a reason as any! It's certainly a dish with an interesting history!


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