Perfect Puttanesca Sauce, From a Friend of Old Vine Cafe (Recipe!)

Chef John Nocita of the Italian Culinary Institute has a refined, though still simple, take on the classic sauce

There are a lot of puttanescas out there, and most of ‘em are undistinguished, wet, chunky tomato sauces with varying representation of anchovies, olives, and capers. Not so the one that chef John Nocita prepared during Old Vine Café’s recent Extreme Cheese seminar at Surfas in Costa Mesa. It’s a puttanesca that made me reconsider puttanescas. Nocita is the president of the Italian Culinary Institute, where Old Vine chef-owner Mark MacDonald studied after graduating from Laguna Culinary Arts. The two chefs lead tours they call Splendors of Italy—and from the itinerary, splendid does seem to be the word. Click here for information on their April tour of southern Italy, which still has space available.

Nocita’s puttanesca is a refined, almost-but-not-completely smooth take on a sauce which at its best is a balanced showcase for some of the most iconic ingredients in the Italian pantry—puttanesca is almost entirely a pantry dish, after all. Nocita first makes a simple, briefly cooked sauce of San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes—a component sauce, he says, a foundation. Make this sauce ahead and refrigerate, and the whole dish takes barely longer than the spaghetti’s boiling. (You might find yourself wanting to keep this foundation sauce in the fridge at all times—it’s a great starting point for so many things.) The resulting light, savory sauce clings perfectly to spaghetti, and is judicious with the usual suspects: garlic, anchovy, capers, olives, and fresh oregano and parsley. Add the requisite shower of pecorino romano, and I bet you’ll reconsider puttanesca, too.

Spaghetti Puttanesca From Chef John Nocita of the Italian Culinary Institute

1 2-ounce can anchovies in olive oil, drained

8 cloves garlic

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Simple Tomato Sauce, recipe follows

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1-pound package spaghetti, cooked very al dente

3 tablespoons diced Italian black olives (not Kalamata)

1 tablespoon capers, rinsed

2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves

1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

Pecorino romano cheese, finely grated

Salt, pepper

Additional extra virgin olive oil, for garnish

Using food processor or mortar and pestle, reduce garlic and anchovies to paste. In large pan that will later accommodate cooked pasta, heat olive oil and sauté garlic-anchovy mixture over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add simple tomato sauce and bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and simmer 5 to 10 minutes.

Increase heat to high, add pasta, olives, and capers. Stir and cook until pasta is desired texture, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Add oregano, parsley, and generous amount of pecorino romano. Toss until well mixed, taste and adjust seasoning. Drizzle each serving with extra virgin olive oil.

Simple Tomato Sauce

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ onion, minced

1 carrot, minced

1 28-ounce can whole Italian tomatoes, San Marzano D.O.P. preferred

Salt, white pepper

Heat olive oil in sauté pan, add onion and carrot. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook 5 minutes. Purée with immersion blender or pass through food mill.

 

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