One of my favorite things to do on Friday nights is to visit Whole Foods for their Five after Five wine tastings. Basically, we meander through the different produce, fish, meat, and specialty cheese sections, tasting small samples of wine and food parings prepared by the staff at the store. For a while, I could not figure out why I enjoyed it so much, but this past week I had a revelation.
I know, there is probably something inherently wrong with me, but I really enjoy grocery shopping. Look forward to it even. Not having to run in and quickly grab one or two things that we forgot or suddenly need, but actually walking in with a list of things we need and having the freedom to wander around and locate an elusive new muse for our dinners. Add a little bit of wine and an array of different food pairings and we enjoy it even more. But enough about my love affair with the grocery store, on to my fishy new craving.
I have gained inspiration for a few different meals from these tastings, and this past Friday was another winner. As we approached the final station, I unenthusiastically gazed at what looked to be pasta and tomato sauce was resting unobtrusively on a plate to sample, next to jars of sauce. To be honest, it is hard for me to get excited about a pasta dish from a jar, regardless of the wine I’m sampling. But as each took a bite, instead of encountering a bland sauce and pasta, our mouths met these dense, square pieces of pasta nestled with the most delicious sauce from a jar I have ever tasted.
If you are like me and had never tried Puttanesca, try it, try it right now. It is amazing. You have no idea what you are missing. The sauce has the slightest hint of fish complimented by salty pieces of olives. The thick square pieces of pasta added an incredible, unbelievable satisfying. Despite my antagonism toward jarred pasta sauces, I was actually tempted to buy the jar of sauce. While I probably will end up buying it next week (to keep on hand with the end of the quarter and writing deadlines looming in the not too distant future), I decided to venture out and make my own. So, the first thing I do when we get home is to get a general idea of how to make it for a nice dinner. To my surprise, not only did we have all the ingredients for it, rather than an all day enterprise that dirties every pot and pan we own, it actually looked simple. And, bonus, only one pan to clean.
The recipe for the sauce is below, and it really is incredibly easy. I cut down the amount of oil to one or two tablespoons, and strongly recommend manually mashing the tomatoes as they cook. If you are in a hurry you could use the crushed tomatoes, but I cannot emphasize enough how much we enjoyed the thick, chunky consistency that is gradually achieved by the mashing. Because I enjoy pulling out my pasta machine whenever I get a chance, I made simple egg pasta sheets, rolled to the second or third lowest setting so that they would still be rather dense, and roughly cut them into square shapes, but again, I think any thick pasta would work exceptionally well. The next time I make it, I may try to use large orecchiette, or I may just leave it as is. Be sure to mix your pasta in with the sauce before serving to make sure each piece gets a generous coating of what I think is best described as salty, fishy, tomato goodness.
For the Puttanesca Sauce:
5 or 6 pressed garlic cloves
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice
3/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives
2 tablespoons drained capers
3/4 cup coarsely chopped basil
Cook garlic, anchovy paste, red-pepper flakes, in oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.
Add can of whole tomatoes in juice along with olives and capers and simmer, stirring occasionally, until pasta is ready. As the tomatoes cook, press down to crush the tomatoes. Alternately, you could add a can of crushed tomatoes or puree the whole tomatoes before adding them in.
Stir in sugar if desired.
Cook your pasta until barely al dente; drain and add to sauce. Simmer, turning pasta with tongs, until pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with basil.