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Pasta Puttanesca
Michael White's Pasta Puttanesca
Nathan Congleton / TODAY
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I've long considered this one of the essential pasta sauces. There are few other pastas that feature as many of what I think are the "impact" flavors of Italian cuisine: olive oil, garlic, tomato sauce, anchovies, olives and oregano. They're all here, along with basil, an ingredient that isn't part of the traditional recipe, but I add it to freshen up the dish.

Technique tip: The pasta water can never be too salty; don't be afraid to use a heavy hand!

Swap option: This is one of the few pasta dishes I do not finish with Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. These cheeses just don't go well with the briny flavors in this sauce. If you want to top the pasta with cheese, you can use grated ricotta salata, which is salty, dry and creamy all at once and pairs perfectly with the other flavors in this dish.


    • Kosher salt
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 large cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
    • 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, minced
    • 1 small red onion, cut into small dice
    • 1 tablespoon capers, soaked in warm water for 5 minutes and drained
    • 1/4 cup white wine
    • One 15-ounce can tomato sauce, preferably Italian San Marzano or organic
    • 1/4 cup black olives (such as Kalamata), chopped
    • 1 pound spaghetti, or other long dried pasta
    • 1 pinch dried oregano
    • 5 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
    • 1 tablespoon fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, thinly sliced
    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • Freshly ground pepper


1. Fill large pot about 2/3 full with water, salt it liberally and bring to a boil over high heat.

2. Meanwhile, heat a wide, deep heavy skillet over medium heat. Pour in the olive oil until it is shimmering and almost smoking. Add the garlic, anchovies, onions and capers and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the onions are softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Pour in the wine and bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the tomato sauce and cook, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, 12–15 minutes. Stir in the olives and cook to warm them through, about 2 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.

5. Stir the oregano, basil, parsley and extra virgin olive oil into the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper, bearing in mind that many of the ingredients are salty.

6. Use a heatproof liquid measuring cup to scoop out and reverse about 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss well, adding a little pasta water if necessary to help the sauce nicely coat the pasta.

7. Transfer the pasta to plates and serve.

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Pasta puttanesca: Try chef Michael White's classic recipe

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