Some of my favorite foods are those extremely divisive ones: olives, pickled anything, sauerkraut, radicchio, capers, red onions, pungent blue cheese and its drier/sharper counterparts. I could actually devour any of the aforementioned things by the bowlful, especially olives. This brings me to a tangential point which is that Jon recently told me, after my proclamation of loving Campari, that a fondness and preference for bitter foods is "a robust predictor for Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism and everyday sadism." (How weird/interesting is that?!) Never having fancied myself a Machiavellian, I'm choosing to ignore this study and continue on with my eating habits.
For any of you still tuning in, this is a story about spaghetti puttanesca. And if you didn't jump ship at the mention of olives, then I think you'll like what this dish is all about. It's a classic southern Italian pasta, and it's so easy to throw together. I can't say that I made it classically, though, because I left out the anchovies (that's where I draw the line on my sadist ways—I just can't do it), and I added a few extras like toasted buttery bread crumbs and a lot of Parmesan cheese. The result is tangy, salty, and delicious, and a great option for a quick weeknight dinner that feels more like date night.
Yields 2 large portions
1 cup Kalamata olives
2 T capers
4 cloves garlic, divided
1 T whole grain mustard
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 tsp + 1 T extra virgin olive oil (divided)
6-8 oz spaghetti (or however much you want for two servings)
¼ cup Panko breadcrumbs
About 16-20 oz San Marzano tomatoes (canned), crushed up with your hands or with a pair of scissors
½ tsp sugar
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, plus extra for serving if you’d like
¼ cup chopped parsley, plus extra for serving
¼ cup Parmesan, plus a bunch more for serving
Crusty bread for serving
Use a food processor to roughly pulse the olives, capers, 2 cloves of garlic, mustard, freshly cracked black pepper, and 1 tsp olive oil (this can be done up to one day in advance and stored in the fridge). Taste for seasoning, and set aside.
Cook spaghetti to al dente, and drain, reserving ½ cup or so of the pasta water. Set aside while you work on the sauce.
Heat 1 tsp oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or so until crisp and golden brown. Scrape into a bowl and set aside.
Add 2 T olive oil to pan, and turn heat down a tiny bit. Roughly slice the other two garlic cloves, and throw those in the pan. Cook for a minute or so until just fragrant; you just want to amplify the garlic flavor. Add in olive/caper mixture and stir around for another couple of minutes. Pour in tomatoes, sugar, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Let simmer for a few minutes to heat through. Add spaghetti to the pan and use tongs to toss and coat. Add a bit of pasta water if the sauce feels like it needs it to come together (I usually add it regardless). Sprinkle in ¼ cup chopped parsley, half the toasted breadcrumbs, and ¼ cup Parmesan. Serve right away in wide bowls, topping with remaining breadcrumbs, extra parsley, and a generous amount of Parmesan (and more crushed red pepper flakes if you’d like).