Puttanesca Quick Italian Pasta Sauce – 20 Minute Dinner

Puttanesca Quick Italian Pasta Sauce
Puttanesca quick Italian pasta sauce

Puttanesca roughly translates to “lady of the night”. Legend says that this aromatic quick Italian pasta sauce was created as a way to lure potential “customers” 😘 as they followed the scent into the alleyways of Naples and into the waiting arms of the ladies

Made using pantry staples of tinned tomatoes, olive oil, pasta, capers, anchovies and a dash of chilli or not, then finished with a sprinkle of fresh parsley, black pepper and lemon zest. This quick Italian pasta sauce is ready in the time it takes to boil then cook your pasta!

Pop on a loaf of our Cheesy Garlic Bread With Brie to serve with the Puttanesca and you have a flavour-packed yet ridiculously easy dinner. Winner!

Our cousin Kath gave us this recipe years ago and it’s one that we trot out regularly on nights when we want something delicious, but don’t want to be in the kitchen for too long. Or go to the shops for that matter!

We’ve passed this recipe on umpteen times as everyone who eats it wants the recipe. That, our friends is when you know when you have a winning recipe! 20 minutes ‘go to whoa’ and you’re tucking in. Got to love that.

At a Glance This Is What You Need To Make Puttanesca Quick Italian Pasta Sauce

ingredients to make Puttanesca quick Italian pasta sauce


  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • salt

Shopping List

  • white or wholemeal pita bread
  • black sesame seeds
  • sumac
  • fennel seeds

What Type Of Tomatoes Do You Use For Sauce?

The trick to making this quick Italian pasta sauce is a well-stocked pantry. Olives, capers, anchovies, dried chillies, pasta and of course good quality tinned tomatoes. Good, quality tinned tomatoes are a boon in the pantry. No need for fresh tomatoes that are usually lacking in flavour or under-ripe. It really is the beauty of this recipe that you can go to the pantry and pull together a knockout meal in minutes with pantry staples.

Next time you’re shopping for canned tomatoes do a little comparison between brands. We think what you’ll see is most brands are made up of 60% tomatoes and water. So it does pay to check the label to get a tinned tomato that is has a high percentage of tomato. This ensures you get the full-on tomato flavour

Here in Australia Mutti tomatoes are 99.8% tomatoes with salt, they have a deep rich colour and full tomato flavour. This is exactly the type of tinned tomato we are referring to when we say good quality. By the way, we have no affiliation with the Mutti brand, but want to share our culinary discovery with you.

Puttanesca Quick Italian Pasta Sauce served in a black bowl with a fork twirled with some pasta on it.

What Can I Use Instead Of Anchovies?

Quick answer, nothing. If you think you don’t like anchovies then you need to rethink. Anchovies add such a crucial flavour level to this Puttanesca Pasta Sauce that we want you to put your big girl (or boy) pants on and buckle up.

Anchovies add such umami (we know we hate that overused word too, but it does describe the depth of flavour). They completely disappear into the sauce, and you’ll not find little fishy bits of anchovy through the sauce. Promise.

They melt into the sauce and add an incredible depth of flavour and we’ll bet that if you tell an anchovy hater there are anchovies in this sauce they’ll not believe you. Just do it, just this once and we’re sure you’ll be adding anchovies with gay abandon. Hopefully…

Easy Steps To Make Our Quick Italian Pasta Sauce

  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil
  2. Meanwhile in a large frying pan add the olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and chilli. Cook over a medium heat until the anchovies have broken down – (don’t brown the garlic) 3 – 4 minutes
  3. Add the tomatoes, olives, capers, and sugar and simmer gently
  4. The sauce should reduce only until it has slightly thickened. Approximately 10 minutes
  5. When the water boils add the salt and pasta, cook as per the manufacturers directions
  6. Add the lemon zest, parsley, and pepper to the sauce just before serving and gently stir through

Pantry Staples To Make Our Quick Italian Pasta Sauce


Dried pasta has got to be one of the all-time favourite pantry staples as it is such a versatile product. Cooked in minutes is equally at home in a wonderful Lasagne or a Caggiunitte, Ravioli filled with pureed chestnuts, chocolate, espresso, rum and ground nuts- Shelf Life: Long


Garlic is one of the crucial flavour ingredients in this sauce. Please don’t be tempted to add a spoon, or so from a jar of commercial minced garlic into the oil. What happens is the finely minced garlic is easily burnt before the garlic has infused into the oil. 😩

You need to finely hand chop fresh garlic so the garlic can release a glorious flavour to the oil without browning, or burning. – Shelf Life: Long


Chilli flakes bring an underlying heat to this pasta dish. The easiest way to introduce the heat is using dried chilli flakes. You can of course add a fresh sliced chilli to the base but first you have to have one, and then you have to chop it. This recipe is about delivering a speedy pasta without too much effort. Stored in a glass jar dried chillies will keep for a year or more. – Shelf Life: Long


Our favoured olives to make the sauce are fleshy Kalamata olives. They’re widely available in jars for the pantry. Kalamatas have a meaty texture, taste fabulous, and pack a punch in the sauce.- Shelf Life: Long


We like to use capers that are cured in salt, rather than vinegar which would impart its flavour into the sauce. Capers add a pop of briny brightness to the sauce. Interestingly the larger the caper, the more aromatic they are. Just rinse the capers before using them to wash away the salt, then squeeze excess water out and add to the sauce.- Shelf Life: Long


 Finish The Puttanesca Pasta Sauce With A Sprinkle Of Gremolata Magic

The addition of fresh Italian parsley and lemon zest added at the finish top these layers of flavour off and really lifts this puttanesca sauce to a new level. You’ll be eyeing a second serve!

plate of puttanesca pasta on a timber board with crusty bread on the side

What Type Of Cheese Goes With Our Quick Italian Pasta Sauce?

Twenty minutes from starting this quick Italian pasta sauce and youʼre ready to scatter the puttanesca with the cheese. Parmesan if youʼre flush! Or it’s cheaper, but still flavoursome cousins like Grana Padano, or pecorino takes this dish to the next comfort level.

We know that Italians generally never serve parmesan cheese with seafood but for our money, we particularly like the addition of a light sprinkling of parmesan. It’s up to you!

Watch How To Make Puttanesca Quick Italian Pasta Sauce

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Can I Freeze Puttanesca Sauce?

Yes, you can. Freeze chilled pasta sauce in an airtight container for up to 3 months. It’s perfect for those nights that you just don’t feel like revving up in the kitchen.

Don’t forget to rate this recipe and let us know what you thought when you make this fabulous Puttanesca Quick Italian Pasta Sauce in the reviews below. 

Puttanesca Quick Italian Pasta Sauce
Yield: 4 serves

Puttanesca Quick Italian Pasta Sauce

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

There's a reason Puttanesca is so famous, it's big on flavour, quick on time, and oh so tasty. This quick pasta sauce will be a welcome addition to your repertoire.

Originally published September 2020


  • 500g dried spaghetti / 1 pound
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 large anchovies
  • 10 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes (to taste), or use a fresh chilli finely sliced
  • 800g good quality canned tomatoes / 28oz
  • 1 teaspoon sugar - optional - see notes
  • 20 fleshy kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • freshly milled black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • large handful fresh italian parsley, chopped
  • freshly grated parmesan
  • salt for the pasta water - add enough salt to make the water taste a little salty - approximately 2 - 3 tablespoons


  1. place a large pot of water on to boil
  2. meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat
  3. add garlic, anchovies, and chilli
  4. stir over medium heat, mashing anchovies until they breakdown (use the back of a spoon to break them up)
  5. note: do not brown the garlic - the anchovies will disintegrate after a few minutes
  6. add tomatoes, olives, capers, and sugar (see notes below re sugar) and simmer gently until the sauce begins to thicken (5 minutes)
  7. when water is boiling add the salt and pasta and cook to manufacturers timing
  8. add lemon zest, parsley, and pepper to the sauce
  9. drain pasta and toss through the sauce
  10. serve immediately with parmesan generously sprinkled over
  11. Enjoy!


  1. some canned tomatoes are more acidic than others so the sugar helps to balance the sauce
  2. if you have fresh ripe red tomatoes you can use them instead of the canned. Simply roughly hand chop into smallish dice. Though you will need to reduce the sauce a few minutes longer for the tomatoes to break down
  3. sauce can be frozen

Nutrition Information



Serving Size


Amount Per Serving Calories 568Total Fat 28gSaturated Fat 6gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 19gCholesterol 35mgSodium 1609mgCarbohydrates 59gFiber 7gSugar 9gProtein 22g

Nutritional information provided here is only intended as a guide.

Cooper…….not again!

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  1. Shane thompson says:

    Wow such a useful sauce. Sent it to my son in Sydney who doesn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen after a busy day. Perfect.

    1. Recipe Winners says:

      Hey Shanie Bear, hope your son loves the recipe. Thanks so much for commenting. Regards, Jo and Jen

  2. Stephanie says:

    I loved making this sauce ! Such a quick and easy recipe packed with flavour, I did a little tweak and added muscles and pipis but the sauce was amazing on its own, can’t wait to make it again

    1. Recipe Winners says:

      Hi Stephanie, your addition of mussels and pippies sound delicious. We’ll be trying this ourselves sometime soon. Regards, Jo ad Jen

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