Puttanesca. An Italian sauce which reputedly originated in Naples, a place dear to my heart. Literally translated, Alla Puttanesca means ‘in the style of a whore’ – there are several suggestions in common circulation for the meaning of this:
1) it’s so easy to cook that the Neopolitan working girls could prep it in between clients, let it cook in the time it took to see to the next customer, and eat it in the next gap between visitors.
2) the glorious scent of cooking was intended to lure in the clients.
3) the ingredients were all the working girls had left in the cupboard by the end of the week, as they weren’t permitted to shop with the Neopolitan housewives.
There’s a great explanation of the sauce’s origins here, along with a recipe that I’m intending to try out. This gives a more prosaic reason for the name – puttana’s alternative use in Italian is to mean ‘crap’, the sauce being made from whatever crap you have in the store cupboard.
Now this dish is slow cooked whereas puttanesca is a quick sauce, so already we’re going off track. But I think that this is a lovely dish and it’s incredibly easy, so bear with me. The recipe comes from a little book called 200 Slow Cooker Recipes, and although I deviate a bit from that recipe, I’ll reproduce it here. The thing to remember about squid is that you’ve either got to cook it very fast, or very slowly. Anything in between and it’s likely to taste like a rubber band. Cooked this way, the squid is meltingly tender.
Traditionally this would be served with spaghetti or linguine, but for this I made courgette /zucchini pappardelle. It was the first time I’ve made it and I was very pleasantly surprised.
Here is the recipe as in the book:
- 500g prepared squid tubes (I used about 350g You could use squid rings if you’re squeamish)
- 1 tbsp olive oil (I always use way more than that!)
- 1 onion, chopped (I used two large escallion shallots)
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 400g can of canned tomatoes (I used 2x 390g cartons of chopped tomatoes, you could also use fresh tomatoes if you prefer)
- 150ml fish stock (I don’t bother with this, as I use more tomatoes)
- 4 tsp capers, drained
- 50g black olives (I used kalamata as I prefer them)
- 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
- 2-3 sprigs of thyme
- They aren’t in the recipe, but I also use a couple of anchovy fillets and a pinch of chilli flakes.
This is a slow cooker (crock pot) recipe. If you don’t have one, you can cook it in the oven in a covered dish. In which case, preheat your oven to 150ºC, 300ºF or Gas mark 2.
If you’re using whole squid rather than rings, prepare them like this. Set aside the tentacles – they don’t go in until near the end.
Do your prep:
Finely chop your shallots/onion. Crush and chop your garlic.
Make sure your olives are all pitted if you’re using whole ones.
Roughly crush your fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar, or you could put them in a wrap of paper and bash the hell out of them with a rolling pin. They need to release their flavour but don’t need to be finely ground.
Gently fry your shallots in the oil for a few minutes, then add your garlic. Cook very gently for another five minutes or so, until the shallots are nice and soft. If you’re going to use fish stock, make it while they’re cooking.
Bring it to a simmer then add the squid rings. If you’re using a slow cooker (crock pot), pour it in and cook on low for 3 – 4 hours. If you don’t have a slow cooker, pour it into an oven dish with a lid and cook it at around 150ºC – the right temperature will depend on your oven, but you want it to be just barely bubbling, so check it frequently.
Half an hour before the end, add the tentacles and stir in. I also added some little vittoria tomatoes about 20 mins before serving, to add a bit more texture.
Serve with linguine or spaghetti if that’s what you eat, or courgette pappardelle if you’re a low carb or paleo/primal person.
A note about onions and tomatoes:
Shallots are lower in carbohydrate than onions, so at the moment I substitute shallots for onions in all my cooking. The carbohydrate content of tomatoes is highly variable, from 3.1% in little fresh on-the-vine ones (ideal for a low carb diet) to 7.1% (that’s grams per 100g) for Waitrose essential tinned tomatoes. Sainsbury’s cartons of chopped tomatoes are 3% and Napolina’s are 3.5%, both ideal for a low carb way of eating.