Sorrento is a beautiful town perched on a cliff high above the sea with views of Vesuvius and the islands in the Bay of Naples . Use this website to help you plan a visit to this elegant southern Italian resort and find your way to the best beaches and some lovely villages and towns along the Sorrentine peninsula that are perhaps less well known to tourists.


Spaghetti alla puttanesca

Quick and easy southern Italian pasta dish has a colourful history

Spaghetti alla puttanesca is a tasty dish that is easy to cook at home
Spaghetti alla puttanesca is a tasty dish
that is easy to cook at home
The distinctive aroma and piquant taste of a puttanesca sauce is something I always associate with Naples. It somehow evokes the atmosphere of the city for me because you enjoy the enticing smell of tomatoes and olives cooked in garlic as you pass restaurants hidden behind unobtrusive doors in the narrow streets in the centre.  

There are various theories about how the sauce, which can be served with either spaghetti or linguine, acquired its name. Puttana is the Italian word for prostitute, so it means literally, spaghetti cooked ‘in the style of the prostitute.’

People have speculated that the dish could have been invented to lure men into houses of ill repute, to be served to them while they waited their turn. Or, the prostitutes may have cooked it to eat themselves, because it was quick and easy to make.

Another version is that pasta cooked alla puttanesca was convenient for married women to make so that they could spend less time in the kitchen and more time with their Neapolitan lovers.

The sauce began to crop up on restaurant menus under various names in the 19th century and the ingredients would vary slightly, according to the area of Italy.

There was a reference to the dish in a 1960s Italian novel when one of the characters says: ‘Spaghetti alla puttanesca, like they make in Siricusa’. In Sicily, the sauce is referred to as spaghetti alla siciliana and has green peppers added to it.

Most Neapolitan cookery books do not suggest adding anchovies to the sauce, but In Lazio, where they also claim it as their own, puttanesca sauce contains chopped anchovies.

It has also been claimed the sauce was invented at a restaurant on the island of Ischia out in the bay of Naples. A group of customers arrived late in the evening when the restaurant had practically run out of ingredients. The customers asked the owner just to give them what he had left, so he quickly made a sauce using four tomatoes, two olives and some capers and garlic, to serve with their spaghetti.

You can use either fresh or tinned tomatoes to make spaghetti alla puttanesca. If you want to make the Neapolitan version, you should fry some garlic in olive oil, add the tomatoes, capers, black olives, and parsley and let it simmer for about ten minutes while the spaghetti is cooking. 

I sometimes add a couple of chopped anchovies and a pinch of dried oregano to it, just because I enjoy the taste. Buon appetito!