Spaghetti Puttanesca is a simple Sicilian pasta dish that’s been around
for quite a long time, though it wasn’t given its name until sometime
in the ’60s. Legend has it that prostitutes in Naples used to make this
dish in between, um, appointments, or to attract customers. Who knew
ladies of the night had culinary skills? Well, whatever the story of
how this dish of tomatoes, capers, olives and roasted red peppers came
about, it’s delicious.

Clearly, Italian food brings people together — whether that’s
giovannis and madams in Italy or friends and family in Lisbon, Maine.
Joe Graziano Jr., owner of Graziano’s Casa Mia in Lisbon, grew up
knowing this fact, watching his father, Joe Graziano Sr., welcome any
and all who walked through the doors of the restaurant — and even those
who kept walking into the kitchen, which often happened. The younger
Graziano, who has been running the restaurant for the past 10 years,
said that when he first heard the history of this dish, it surprised
him and made him laugh a bit.

“It’s got a cheeky name. Some people may not know that ‘puttana’ means ‘prostitute’ in Italian,” said Graziano.

Good food, no matter where it comes from, starts in a kitchen. And a
good kitchen is one that is well stocked, he says. Most of the items in
this dish are ingredients that can be kept for a long time in the
pantry or refrigerator. The sauce takes eight to 10 minutes to cook;
with preparation taking about 10 minutes.

Enjoying what you’re cooking, that’s something Graziano says he learned from his father.

“It’s good to have fun when you’re cooking,” said Graziano. “Cooking
is all about fun; enjoy yourself while you’re doing it and the food
will respond to that.”

Some secrets to good Spaghetti Puttanesca, according to Graziano:

• Start by heating the pan on high, then add the olive oil and
garlic and lower the heat to medium. If you heat the pan with the oil
in it, the flavor of the oil is cooked off. Also, he recommends using
extra-virgin olive oil and cutting it with a little vegetable oil to
raise the smoking point for easier cooking.

• Anchovies? Yes. Graziano says they are one of the secrets of this
recipe. “Not everyone likes anchovies,” he said. “The idea is you only
put in a little bit. There’s just two small anchovies, chopped up. It’s
going to add so much flavor.”

• Because of the anchovies and capers, not much salt is needed in
this dish. Chili powder and black pepper add a bit of a kick to the
sauce.

• Don’t forget the chopped parsley. “My father would call chopped parsley a flavor exploder,” said Graziano.

Graziano’s Casa Mia’s Spaghetti Puttanesca

Serves two to four people

½ pound cooked spaghetti

2 chopped anchovies

4 ounces of capers

6 ounces sliced black olives

8 ounces julienned red roasted peppers

1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, with the juice

4 chopped scallions

Chopped garlic (to taste)

Salt, pepper and chili powder (to taste)

Olive oil

Fresh parsley

4 ounces light chicken or vegetable broth

Directions: Heat the pan on medium-high heat and add enough olive oil — cut with vegetable oil — to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Add a tablespoon of garlic and stir until it is well coated with the sizzling oil. Add anchovy, capers, olives and roasted red peppers. (See tip for making your own roasted red peppers.) Season with a pinch of salt, black pepper and chili powder. Sauté for three minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the broth to deglaze the pan, stirring with a wooden spoon. Turn the heat to high and add the tomatoes and the scallions. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cook two or three more minutes, then add the warm cooked spaghetti and some chopped fresh parsley. Toss gently with a fork to coat the noodles. Serve in a bowl with crusty bread and red wine.

*Add cooked chicken or a can of tuna fish with the tomatoes for more protein if you’d like.

Tip: Roasted red peppers

Joe Graziano says preparing your own roasted red peppers is easy, simple and will add an irresistible taste to your recipes.

Start by washing and coring the peppers, removing all seeds. Cut into quarters and place skin-side-up under a broiler. When the skins have blackened, remove from the heat, cool and then peel the blacked skins off and discard. The roasted peppers can then be sliced as needed.

Joe Graziano pours the last of the Spaghetti Puttanesca onto a plate in the kitchen of the family restaurant.

Capers, a pickled flower bud, is one of the tasty ingredients in Spaghetti Puttanesca

Black olives, roasted peppers, capers, anchovies, and garlic are cook with olive oil as the recipe starts to take shape.

Spaghetti Puttanesca


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