Pasta a La Putanesca

With the interval of postings on this blog, you’d think we haven’t been eating at home. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking; it’s just that I haven’t been blogging too much lately. At least, not in my blogs. There’s this project in my kids’ school and I was focused on it for the past month.

Pasta a la putanesca has an interesting history. Most of us only know it as a traditional pasta dish made with anchovies and olives but how many know that the “putanesca” part in its name should be taken in the literal sense? According to various accounts, the dish originated from Italy’s ladies of the night who didn’t have much time to prepare proper meals. Hence, it is also known as “Harlot’s Pasta.” This woman just threw together bits and pieces of available ingredients to make a quick pasta dish.

Who would have thought that the whole world would come to love their creation, eh? Like I’ve said so many times before, a truly great dish is one meant to satisfy, not one meant to merely impress.

But this entry is not a recipe for the traditional puttanesca. Anchovies, in cans or jars, are not native to the Philippines and, as imported foodstuff, are quite expensive. So, substitutions are in order. In the past, I have cooked pasta with tuyo (salted dried herring) in oil and with tinapang bangus (smoked milkfish). Last week, I made a huge bunch of spaghetti with sardines. Not canned sardines but sardines in jars, soaked in oil and spices. You’ll find them in most supermarkets. Not as cheap as canned sardines but tastier.

Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, drain, and keep warm. Heat the olive oil and butter together in a saucepan. Saute the garlic and onions until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for about two minutes or until they start to soften. Add all the contents of the jar, removing the bay leaf, if any. Cook for a few minutes, stirring to break up the sardines. Try not to make the sardines mushy with mixing; it’s nice to eat the pasta with discernible bits of sardines. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss to coat evenly. To serve, place the cooked pasta on individual plates, and top with chopped cilantro and grated cheese.