Legend has it that the harlots in and around Naples made this dish to lure in hungry men. It’s interesting because in the 1950s the prostitution houses were all state-run. They were required to keep their shutters closed so as not to offend the general populace. The other popular theory was that this dish was created by the "state workers" to sustain themselves between client visits. Here is how I like to prepare this delicious and slightly spicy & sweet/sour dish.
Ingredients (serves 6-8 as a first course):
-1 can San Marzano whole tomatoes (28 ounces), crushed by hand in a large bowl
-1 cup of currants
-1/2 cup salt packed capers (rinsed and dried)
-1 cup oil-cured black olives
-1/2 cup pine nuts
-1 cup dry white wine
-Salt & pepper
-Extra virgin olive oil
-2-3 tablespoons of hot pepper or chili flakes
-3 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
-1 pound best quality linguine or spaghetti such as Rustichella
The first thing we need to do is to prepare our basic tomato sauce. In a large saute pan heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic cloves and saute until soft but not brown (30-45 seconds). Turn off the heat and wait 30 seconds. Add the crushed San Marzano tomatoes and stir everything together. Turn the heat up to high and allow come to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 25-30 minutes, adding salt along the way. Stir at least every 5 minutes. When done season to taste and set aside.
In another large saute pan heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat. Add the capers, pine nuts, olives and currants. Saute over high heat for 1 minute. Add the chili flakes and stir through. Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Cook the wine off for 1 minute. Add the reserved basic tomato sauce and stir all the components together. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes.
Drop your pasta into a large pot of boiling, salted water. Cook until al dente, remembering that the pasta will continue to cook while it is drained and dressed. Pour the pasta into a large bowl and ladle in the sauce a little at a time. Use tongs to incorporate the sauce and dress the pasta much like a salad. Reserve a little extra sauce to ladle over each plate. Serve immediately.
James is a food writer and Bay Area chef who owns and runs a private dinner party and cooking class business specializing in regional Italian and Spanish cuisine. See CookWithJames.com