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So, I caused a ruckus at work last week because of my Italian speaking skills.  We ran some delicious Pasta Puttanesca as a lunch special, and my delightful Mexican co-workers had a pretty good idea of what the word ‘Puttanesca’ means and I confirmed their suspicions that it does indeed mean ‘Prostitute-style-sauce.’

The wait staff was equally entertained by the whimsical story of this pasta sauce’s origins.  The culinary urban legend is that the ladies of the night, somewhere in southern Italy, would make this sauce and the wonderful, rich smell would waft out their windows and tempt potential customers into spending the night with them.  The conversation quickly degenerated from there…

Perhaps the real reason that this dish was rumored to be made by Italian working girls is that it is an easy and delicious dinner that can be made quickly when one has a busy night, so to speak.

As a firm believer in alternate sources of protein, I added some lentils to this dish.  I especially liked how the lentils calmed the flavors of the capers and olives so that they were more muted than typical in this dish because I’m still warming up to pickled things like olives.  On that note, because I don’t absolutely love all olives yet, if I’m going to eat them, I’m splurging on some nice ones.

When getting nice olives it’s important to check the deli section of your grocery store (either the olive bar or the olives available in the deli case) as well as in the jarred olive and pickle aisle.  I noticed that, for Kalamata olives, the price per pound in the deli case was about the same as the drained weight of the jarred olives.  I chose the deli case olives because they were already pitted (less hassle for me and I’m not paying for the pits) and because I could buy only what I needed for the recipe.

Pasta con Sugo Puttanesca – served with ciabatta bread

Serves 4 – cost approx $1.49 per serving, including bread


  • 1 cup lentils ($.43)
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 onion, medium dice ($.17)
  • 2 Tbs capers ($.40)
  • 1/4 lb olives, rough chop – about 1/2 cup ($2.07)
  • 1/2 -1 tsp crushed red peppers – to taste!
  • 1 Tbs anchovy paste – substitute soy sauce if you’re vegetarian
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste ($.16)
  • 1/2 cup red wine ($.20)
  • 1 lg, 28 oz can crushed tomatoes ($.88)
  • 1/2 tsp dry basil
  • 1/2 tsp dry oregano
  • 1 lb pasta ($.89)
  • 3 Tbs minced parsley

Start by putting the lentils on to boil in a small pan and putting a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.  The lentils need to simmer for abut 20-30 minutes to become tender, so this can work while you prepare all the other ingredients and make the sauce.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan.  Saute the garlic for 30 seconds, or until fragrant.  Next add in the onion, saute 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent.  Next add in the capers, olives and crushed red peppers, saute for a minute before adding the anchovy paste (or soy sauce if you’re going full-veggie mode) and tomato paste.  Saute together 2 minutes.  Now, deglaze the pan with the red wine, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan.  Add in the crushed tomatoes, dry herbs and cooked, drained lentils.  Now the sauce is done but be sure to simmer for another 10-15 minutes (Hey, that’s about the time it takes for pasta to cook, hint hint.) and adjust the seasonings if necessary.  As many of the ingredients are quite salty, you may or may not need to add salt.


Salt the pasta water and add the pasta, cook to about 75% done-ness as the sauce simmers.  (This time may vary depending on the type of pasta you use.)  Scoop out a cup or so of pasta water and drain the pasta.  Add the pasta to the sauce to finish cooking to al dente.  If the sauce looks too thick, you can thin it out with a little of the reserved pasta water.  Now you’re ready to eat!  Mangia!