Puttanesca

puttanesca

It's here, isn't it?  Christmastime, I mean.  I'm not one of those people that gripes, "It just gets earlier every year!"  I know the premature lights are usually erected to get us buying more, but I've decided not to care. Until today, it's been abysmally dark and wet, so putting up more lights makes a lot of practical sense.  It's either that or we all succumb to Seasonal Affective Disorder.  That's a real problem in the Northwest--means we have to stick together, check on one another, and keep the lights in the kitchen on.

Phyllis, my mother-in-law, called last night to make sure we were okay.  She had been watching news of the manhunt on T.V. Turns out, the guy that killed four cops was caught in my neighborhood early this morning. There is an absolute firestorm of rage, anger, and fear going on the Seattle area right now, and a lot of folks asking, "What's wrong with this world?"  This violence is real, the pain of these officers' families is real.  But I still think part of the problem is that we aren't telling the stories of peace and reconciliation that are out there, the stories of healing and recovery.  I have no interest in pretending bad things don't happen.  They do--we all carry the pain of them around all the time.  But it's also true that stories of peace don't sell well. Even these last couple days, I've checked the news far more obsessively than if a peace accord was about to signed or a treaty to slow global warming might be reached.  Maybe it's that recovery is usually so slow and violence so quick.  We don't have the attention span to wait around for the good stuff.  Where do you get your good news?  Any favorite magazines or websites?  Seems like we should share those with one another in this season of lights.

And we should share this with one another--this tangy tangle of noodles, olives, anchovies, tomatoes.  (Notice again my warped ability to link anything to food.  You'll forgive me, I hope.) When the days start getting shorter, I have an unstoppable impulse to make puttanesca.  Every ingredient is something that's almost always in my pantry.  So I don't have to go to the store or put this on a menu plan--it's always there, like the most attentive and reliable friend.  The kids, of course, pick out the olives and capers, but there's plenty in the tomato-infused olive oil for them to slurp.

I've had versions that are basically marinara sauce with some olives thrown in.  Not so this version--or, if I'm snotty about it--the real kind.  Real puttanesca should be an olive oil-based sauce.  More olive oil than tomatoes. Clearly, not for the diet-conscious.  But, #!*!. So deliciously, crazily comforting.

I don't know what's wrong with the world, either.  I have theories and guesses, but lately, none of them help much.  I do know that there are millions and millions of things RIGHT with the world, though, and I hope you can catch a glimpse of them while you're standing in line at Home Depot, arms full of Christmas tree lights.

Pasta Puttanesca
If you're a vegetarian or an anchovy-avoider, you can certainly leave them out.  I love the depth and richness they add, though.  And I only use spaghetti when I make puttanesca.  Other pasta shapes just don't hold the oily bits as well.

1 medium onion, finely diced
4 or 5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. capers, drained
1 1/2  c. pitted Kalamata olives, some coarsely chopped and some left whole
4 or 5 flat, olive oil-paced anchovy fillets, finely chopped
3/4 c. best quality olive oil
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tb. tomato paste
salt and freshly ground pepper
red pepper flakes
1 lb. spaghetti
grated parmesan and finely chopped parsley for garnish

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 c. of the olive oil.  Add onion and garlic and saute until soft, about 10 minutes.  Add capers, olives, and anchovies and the rest of the olive oil, and saute another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add diced tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste, and red pepper flakes, and simmer until flavors are melded and sauce has begun to darken, about 25 minutes.  You might even want to add a little more olive oil before serving (yikes!).

Cook spaghetti in a large, salted pot of water until al dente.  Drain, return to stockpot, and add all of the sauce, mixing well. Immediately serve in pasta bowls, garnishing with lots of freshly grated parmesan and finely chopped parsley.