Pere Chestnut’s Pasta Puttanesca

by Emily Kemme

My good friend, Père Chestnut, has a commanding presence, towering over me at six feet and more, but what I hold him in greatest esteem for is his gregarious personality and unmatchable quick wit. He also excels in finer cooking, skillfully mastering recipes, and handles cuts of meat that make me blanche. Père’s Pasta Puttanesca is the exception:  meatless, quick and so easy, you’ll be digging into a bowl of his spicy spaghetti within half an hour. Guaranteed.

The only problem you’ll encounter with this recipe is trying to figure out how to stop laughing long enough so you can prepare it.

Pere Chestnut’s Pasta Puttanesca. Capers are the unripened flower bud of a Mediterranean plant, which lend a salty, somewhat sour bite to dishes developed in that region. They are an absolute necessity in this dish, and give balance to the spicy peppers.

I’d asked him for the specifics one day, because this dish quickly became my daughter Isabelle’s favorite pasta sauce, and she requested it for her birthday.  This was Père Chestnut’s emailed response:

“Puttanesca? Letta mea tell you-a. . .. This is a recipe that has been in the famiglia for generations and generations. Really, I should not share it with you. Nanna would be-a turning in her grave to know, but here goes:

Recipe for Pere Chestnut’s Pasta Puttanesca

1 bigga can of Roma tomato or a little less

(What he really means:  a 28oz can of whole tomatoes)

1 can di Anchovies (2 for a stout sauce,) drain oil or use for bread

1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted (or extra for Isabelle.) Squish them by hand. . .it’s the only way permissible by Nanna)

2 T of Caperes

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1-3 dried red peppers (break in half and ditch the seeds) depending on your quest for valor–I use “Japonese” variety from the Mexican section, cheap and molto bono

2 T extra virgin olive oil

a squirt of tomato paste (of course, from the Old Country) from the tube; this is not a necessary step but adds something only Nanna would think of

ground black pepper to taste

sea salt to taste, but only towards the end (i.e.; anchovies carry a lotta salt)

one pinch of sugar, no more, just the perfect balance

1 lb spaghetti

(A Good Idea:  the pasta can be cooked right before you begin sauce preparation. Drain water from pot, toss pasta with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, cover and let sit until you’re ready to toss with the sauce. I like this because then you’re not worrying about over-cooking the pasta and can concentrate on more important things!)

Ok. Now for the assembly. Put on the water for the spaghetti and by the time the noodles are al dente, well, the sauce is perfecto! In a large fry pan, warm the olive oil over medium high heat and add the chopped garlics and red pepper. Allow to develop a beautiful aroma, about 30 seconds. Don’t burn them. Add the anchovies and watch out. The anchovies splatter, so remove from flame just before adding the little rascals. When the anchovies begin to lose their pretty little composition, dump in the Roma tomato. You can sort of crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon, depending on your level of aggression on any particular day. Or they can just cook peacefully. I tend to crush. Next, add capers and crush the olives into the sauce. This crushing is good for pent up frustrations and truly showing the family your more pleasant side. Add the squirt of tomato paste, not too much, the ground pepper and a pinch of sugar. Stir the sauce once and then lay off the wooden spoon. To stir the sauce too often is to ruin a work of art. The ingredients need to get acquainted in a more subtle fashion. Just let them take their time. Cook the sauce, covered, at medium heat. At the end, after checking for flavor, add salt to taste. Drain the spaghetti, mix in the sauce and serve. Remember, each time is a new adventure and when you truly pay attention to the ingredients you will create a masterpiece.”


Simple, spicy and satisfying! What more can you ask for in a meal? Pour a glass of red wine and you’re complete. So quintessentially Italian!

Like this blog post? Subscribe to my newsletter so you won’t miss out on future blog posts!

Related Articles

1 comment

Dimitria Hurst February 6, 2012 - 5:10 pm

Emily, pasta puttanesca is one of my absolute favorite recipes. This sounds like an awesome version!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.