Spaghetti Chitarra alla Puttanesca
Recipe and photos by Fernanda Baggio
Puttanesca sauce was invented in Naples in the mid-20th century and is typically made with tomatoes, olive oil, olives, chili peppers, anchovies, capers, and garlic. You can find a lot of little variations in how people make it, but all of those ingredients are foundational. In my version, I like to also add white wine, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil. Once mixed together, everything melts into a rich savory tomato sauce that explodes with a bright, sweet flavor from the cherry tomatoes. Mix it with fresh spaghetti alla chitarra and you will have a perfect weekend night dinner with your family or friends.
The most fun way to make spaghetti alla puttanesca is to take that extra special step of making your own spaghetti. One of the best parts of this recipe is the fun of putting your hands in the dough. Once the dough is made, my favorite way of making the noodles is to use an Italian tool called a chitarra, which translates into “guitar” for its resemblance to the musical instrument.
If you don’t have a chitarra to make your own spaghetti you can opt for another type of pasta (tagliatelle, fettuccine, and pappardelle are all great substitutes), but I recommend you choose a long-shaped pasta to serve with the delicious puttanesca sauce.
One of the most controversial ingredients in this recipe is the anchovies. I have to confess – I was skeptical the first time I started using them. Today I’m a big fan! My advice to you is to give them a try if you haven’t worked with them. If you are not a fan of anchovies, then you can use dried seaweed (nori) to replace the flavor. If you don’t really like dried seaweed you can just leave it out. Whatever you decide, I hope you give this recipe a try.
Spaghetti Chitarra alla Puttanesca
Prep time: 90 Minutes
Cook time: 25 Minutes
For the puttanesca sauce:
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, sliced
4 anchovy fillets, diced
Pinch of crushed chili peppers
1 pint cherry tomatoes
2 pints tomato puree
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, sliced
1/3 cup drained non-pareil capers
1/2 cup white wine
Q.B. Salt and black pepper
1/2 cup cold butter cubes
1/2 cup grated Granada Padano cheese
Fresh basil leaves to finish
To make the spaghetti alla chitarra:
Start by placing your semolina on a clean surface. Make a deep hole and in the middle of the flour and add the cracked eggs.
With a fork beat the eggs and gradually incorporate them with the flour until the mixture is too thick to continue beating with the fork. With your hands, finish mixing the flour until the dough no longer sticks to your hands and the surface of your countertop. Be aware that some eggs have yolks that are richer in fat or have higher percentages of water, so you may not need all the flour you weighed or you may have to add more. You just want a workable dough.
Knead for about 5 minutes or until it is smooth, elastic and a finger poked into the surface of the dough springs back. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes covered.
Roll the dough with a pasta machine. I like the Marcato machine you can find in Q.B. Cucina’s online store. I roll it down to the number 4 setting on the Marcato machine. Let the pasta sheets dry for 10 minutes uncovered. Flip them and leave for 10 more minutes on the other side before starting to ‘cut’. It is important that you dust both sides of the pasta sheet with semolina. This will help ensure the dough will not stick. Sprinkle semolina on both sides of the sheet and place on top of the chitarra. Pass the roller from one side to the other, when you can see all the chitarra threads you can drag the roller from one side to the other. Run your fingers over the strings as if you were playing a guitar, until all the dough comes off the strings. Repeat the same process with the rest of the dough. Set aside the spaghetti.
To make the sauce:
In a large sauté pan over medium heat add the olive oil and the sliced garlic. As soon as the garlic starts to turn light brown, add the chili peppers and the anchovies. Then add the capers and olives. Give everything a good stir, and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the white wine, and let the wine cook off a bit. Add the tomato puree and stir well. Add salt and black pepper. Be careful with the salt because most of the ingredients in this recipe are salty.
The final step is to add the cherry tomatoes. Don’t overcook! I don’t like them to be to the point where they fall apart. I leave the cherry tomatoes for a few minutes so that they absorb flavor and remain whole.
To finish the dish:
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain and toss it in the sauce. It’s important to cook the pasta in the sauce for another 2 to 3 minutes, this makes it absorb more flavor, finish with cubes of cold butter and Grana Padano cheese. Place on plate and top with fresh basil leaves.
I love when I take the pasta and tomatoes together and it explodes in your mouth, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes is a perfect touch to the sauce. If you make it, don’t forget to invite me! I will definitely come and bring a bottle of wine for you because it’s one of my favorite pastas.
Fernanda Baggio is Acquerello restaurant group’s pasta specialist, where she serves as Sous Chef of Research and Development and resident pasta maker. She’s wholly devoted to the craft.
Her knowledge and expertise in pasta has brought a different perspective to Acquerello’s cuisine, and her contribution helped the restaurant win “Tre Forchette” 2023 award from Italian food organization Gambero Rosso, which is the highest honor awarded to a restaurant. Fernanda has also sharpened the pasta program at Sorella, Acquerello’s sister restaurant.
Prior to joining the Acquerello family, Fernanda attended Le Cordon Bleu Canada. Upon graduation she returned to her native Brazil, just as the pandemic hit. She used the time as an opportunity to get creative and entrepreneurial, launching her own subscription pasta kit program called “All You Need is Pasta“ which enabled her to support herself through Covid. Using social media as a marketing tool, her exciting pasta-making videos gained a major following on Instagram @febgg, and allowed Fernanda to build connections that brought her to San Francisco and into the kitchen of two-Michelin-starred Acquerello, which has been serving innovative Italian fare since it was established in 1989 by Giancarlo Paterlini and founding chef Suzette Gresham.