If you don’t like it hot, look away now. Because this is a freestyle Pasta Puttanesca on steroids.
Then again, you can of course tone down the multiple chili layers, if you prefer things a bit lower on the Scoville scale of fire.
Pasta Puttanesca literally translates to “whore’s pasta”. Tart’s or prostitute’s pasta if you’re from the classier part of town. The classic Italian Sugo alla Puttanesca is a simple yet feisty combination of fruity tomatoes, salty anchovies and olives, tangy capers, hot chilies and fragrant garlic.
This red hot linguine is a pimped up play on the Puttanesca theme. Any pasta shape will work, but like for a traditional Puttanesca, spaghetti, linguine, penne or bucatini would be best suited.
The umami of the anchovies is essential for the gutsy depth of flavour of this dish. But if you want to make this vegetarian, leave them out and add salt and extra Worcestershire sauce to taste. Make it vegan by also leaving off the ricotta or creme fraiche. You could opt for an alternative vegan cream alternative instead.
Choose your chili weapons as you go:
- Plain tinned tomatoes or the ones with added chili
- Deseed your fresh red chili or not (the seeds and the white membrane in the chili are what gives it most of the heat)
- Plain red pesto or red chili pesto
- Plain or peperoncini pasta (chili flavoured)
- A dollop of cooling ricotta or creme fraiche. Or dare to go bare with just the pasta and the sauce
I went the whole hog. I won’t lie: it was delicious, but devilishly hot. So I very much welcomed the cooling ricotta to balance out the punchy chili hit.
Red Hot Linguine (serves 4)
The optional balsamic vinegar-sugar combo helps to bring out the sweetness in the tomatoes. I use it in most of my tomato based sauces.
250-350 gr pasta, plain or with chilies
400 gr tinned chopped tomatoes, with or without chili
1/2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 anchovies in oil, drained
1 red chili, deseeded or not, finely chopped (optional if you’re already layering up with other chilies elsewhere)
1 banana shallot, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large red pepper, deseeded and diced
150 ml red or white wine (optional)
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried Italian herbs or oregano
1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2-3 tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
1/2 tsp unrefined caster sugar or coconut palm sugar (optional)
a few sprigs of fresh thyme if you have them
280 gr cherry tomatoes
145 gr red pesto, with or without chilies, from a tub or a jar
a good handful of toasted pine nuts
Optional to serve: 4 generous tablespoons of ricotta or creme fraiche, freshly grated Parmesan
Heat a heavy-based pan over medium heat on the hob. Add the oil and the anchovies. Let them start to melt away. stirring. Add the shallots and garlic. Turn the heat down and cook for a few mins or so, stirring occasionally.
Turn the heat back up to medium-high and add the wine (if using) to deglaze the pan. Let it reduce to almost gone, stirring often. Now add the red pepper and sauté for a minute or so.
Add the tinned tomatoes, the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, capers and herbs. Season to taste but go easy on the salt as the anchovies add their own saltiness. Turn the heat down, cover and cook for 15-20 mins.
Add the pesto, balsamic vinegar, sugar and cherry tomatoes. Check the seasoning,, again being careful wit salt as the cooking water added at the end will yet again add a little saltiness. Cook uncovered for another 10 mins or so, or until the cherry tomatoes have “popped” and softened.
Remove the thyme sprigs from the sauce, if using.
Meanwhile cook the pasta al dente in salted water according to the packet instructions. Strain and add to the sauce together with 1-2 tbsp of the pasta cooking water. Toss to coat and turn off the heat.
Serve with a scattering of pine nuts, a generous dollop of ricotta or creme fraiche and a good grating of Parmesan.