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How to Doctor Up That Old Can of Tomatoes

We visit the team at Eataly USA to learn how to make the most from little.

Henry Phillips

If you enjoy cooking, you might revel in the special occasions: those two or three times a year when dropping $100 on a roast, or starting a stew two days in advance, seems fun and totally justified. But most times, when that thing called life gets in the way, you’re probably just trying to put food on the table as quickly and cheaply as possible. The Italians have just the thing for these kinds of nights. It’s called spaghetti alla puttanesca — or “spaghetti of the prostitute” (yes, really) — a briny, delicious pasta dish, first popularized in the ’60s, that derives its flavor entirely from pantry staples you might already have: canned tomatoes, anchovies, capers and olives. Even better, it takes just a few minutes to prepare.

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Serves 2

Half box dried spaghetti (8 ounces)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 whole clove garlic
3 anchovy fillets, canned in olive oil
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup preferred olives (i.e. Kalamata), pitted
1 1/2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped


1. Start cooking spaghetti by following instructions on the box. Drain two minutes before ready, and be sure to reserve half a cup of cooking liquid for later step.

2. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add clove of garlic, and cook until brown, about 1–2 minutes; then discard. Add anchovies to the pan and smear with a spatula until it forms a paste with the olive oil. Sprinkle red chili flakes, cook for about 10 seconds, then add tomatoes. Simmer for about 8–9 minutes, or until the sauce starts to thicken.

3. Lower the heat, and toss in capers and olives. Fold in the cooked spaghetti, and stir to coat. Cook for an additional minute or two until preferred doneness. If the sauce is too thick, use the reserved pasta water to help coat the spaghetti.

4. Plate, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.

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