Ryan Hay and Alexandra Rego are second years exiled to DRA for the crimes against cuisine they committed in catered halls during first year. Every week, they will be cooking for their flatmates and a variety of other waifs, gays, and vagabonds. They will share their dishes and experiences with us in this series.

The word “puttanesca” comes from the Italian “puta”, or “whore”. It refers to the way Italian “ladies of the night” would use whatever ingredients were available to them to make a thick, nourishing pasta sauce. Italians possibly carried on with this tradition in order to gossip about their ancestors on full (and thrifty) stomachs.

The only real rule of puttanesca is that there isn’t a set recipe. So technically, this traditional red sauce should be feasible within the limits of your imagination and the contents of your larder. You can literally put anything in puttanesca. Olives. Tomatoes. Basil and tomatoes. Olives. Tomatoes. Wine. Wine. Wine. What?

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca by mallydally, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  mallydally 

Difficulty: A gradient of difficulty does exist based on one’s inherent Italian-ness, but making penne puttanesca is easy enough. (For increased Italian-ness, just stick a leaf of basil behind your ear, crank up the opera music, and think about something depressing. It’s probably a good idea to listen to The Godfather theme song somewhere in there.)

Time: Theoretically, half an hour.


  • Garlic (1 clove)
  • Onion (to taste; we used half an onion)
  • Olive oil
  • Olives (chopped)
  • Canned peeled tomatoes
  • Red wine (to taste…)
  • Parmesan cheese (at least ¼ cup)
  • Basil (dried or fresh)
  • Oregano
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Pasta (about ¾ of a pound, and typically a shorter noodle is best: penne, fusilli, orecchiette, but never gnocchi.)


  1. Mince the garlic and onion.
  2. In a non-stick frying pan over medium heat, fry off the onion and garlic in roughly two tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Just before it looks like the onion and garlic might burn, stir in another tablespoon of olive oil, and the olives.
  4. Add the tomatoes.
  5. Add the wine. Preferably a lot. The earlier you add the wine, the more wine you can add, since it burns off properly.
  6. Grate ¼ cup of the parmesan directly over the pan.
  7. Add basil and oregano to taste, and stir the herbs with the parmesan into the sauce.
  8. Add pinch of salt and pepper, along with a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, stirring continuously.
  9. In a separate pot, boil the pasta with a pinch of salt and strain after roughly ten minutes.
  10. When the pasta has been cooked and strained, add another dash of red wine (Aldi’s vague yet aptly named “Italian Wine” is perfectly fine), and then mix the pasta with the sauce in the larger pot.
  11. Serve with a dusting of grated parmesan, and a leaf of fresh basil for dramatic effect.


Penne alla Puttanesca by larryjh1234, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  larryjh1234 

Generally, puttanesca is a savory red sauce containing very little added salt. The capers (and, traditionally, anchovies as well) add to most of the savouriness. Sadly, because we’re cheap and used what capers we did have in a variety of bad carbonaras last week, we didn’t have any capers.

Or nice red wine.

Or red pepper flakes.

We’re also vegetarians, so we didn’t have any anchovies.

This week’s lesson is that perseverance can usually help you obtain at least a sizeable part of your “goal”. Persevere through that intense Scottish wind without a proper coat to get the cheapest ingredients available. The resulting puttanesca will at least be decent.

Let your imagination persevere and pretend that puttanesca doesn’t need to be as salty as records (rightly) suggest. Your cholesterol and arteries will thank you. Probably.

Persevere through intense shin splints while you walk to Aldi for the honour and glory of sharing your own cultural heritage with your ungrateful flatmates.

Signing off, until next week,

R&A x



Lost vegetables: Nil!
Outfits: Monochromatic, unstained by tomato sauce, and generally put together (it was a Thursday)
Energy levels: Endergonic for the diners, exergonic for the cooks, negative for the traveler/cook
Carb percentage: 50%
Diners: 4
Glasses of wine: one each, disappointingly
#squad Goals Achieved: 10



Ryan Hay and Alexandra Rego