The Saline Courier Weekend

Spotlight on Southern Italian dish Puttanesca

- By Lynda Balsley

Pasta puttanesca is a southern Italian dish that hails from Naples in the Campania region. Puttanesca refers to the potent tomato sauce that brims with black olives, red chiles, capers and anchovies. It’s safe to say that this dish is no shrinking violet, as its name might suggest (puttana is the Italian word for “whore”), and indeed this sauce is salty, briny, spicy and vibrant.

There’s no denying puttanesca sauce goes exceedingl­y well with pasta. It’s also a wonderful condiment that is more than a fiery addition to spaghetti. Use it as a vibrant ragout; ladle it over fish, such as swordfish or halibut; or use it as a bed for garlicky shrimp. Dollop it on grilled steak and chicken, or add a drizzle to eggs.

Even a smear on crostini will stand in for an easy appetizer in a pinch.

It takes inspiratio­n from the traditiona­l puttanesca sauce with a liberty or two -- namely, an extra dash of sweetness to boost the flavor of supermarke­t tomatoes.

A simple splash of balsamic vinegar and orange juice provides the extra kick. I encourage you to taste as you go and add these two ingredient­s in the end as needed.

Puttanesca Sauce

Active time: 20 minutes Total time: 20 minutes Yield: Makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 tablespoon­s extravirgi­n olive oil

1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

2 garlic cloves, minced 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup cured black olives, pitted, finely chopped

1 to 2 anchovies, mashed

1 tablespoon drained capers

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 to 2 teaspoons fresh orange juice (optional)

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and cook until they break down, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the olives, anchovies, capers, oregano and black pepper and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Taste for seasoning -- you may or may not need salt, due to the saltiness of the ingredient­s.

Stir in the balsamic vinegar and taste again. If too tart, add the orange juice. Remove from the heat and cool to allow the flavors to develop. Refrigerat­e for up to 2 days.

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