Puttanesca sauce in a pot with a black spoon

Puttanesca Sauce with Romanesco Cauliflower

A sauce for pasta, chicken or fish

I adapted this Puttanesca Sauce recipe from my first cookbook, The Seduction Cookbook: Culinary Creations For LoversPuttanesca Sauce with Romanesco Cauliflower 1. It is, of course, the classic sauce for Pasta Puttanesca. But I also enjoy using this sauce over chicken or fish.

A tomato sauce with questionable origins

If you know the history of this dish, you already know that the name loosely translates to “whore’s pasta.” However I like to think of the sensual quality of its fragrant, salty, briny flavor in a more romantic sense, and affiliate it with the legend that its origin was a siren’s call to lure sailors into salons of pleasure.Unlike most of Italy’s pasta sauces, Puttanesca is a fairly new invention. It is believed that this blend of tomatoes, capers and anchovies emerged around the time of World War II. However its exact year of origin and birthplace are not clear.

Don’t shy away from anchovies

What is clear is that Puttanesca Sauce is one of the most alluringly pungent of all pasta dishes. Do not be afraid of the anchovies. Rather than give the sauce a “fishy” flavor, the anchovies serve to lend a briny essence that plays exceptionally well with the sweetness of tomatoes. (Not to mention the fact that anchovies, like all seafood, are aphrodisiac–as are the tomatoes!)

The hidden ingredients

Although I used to make Puttanesca for romantic evenings, this sauce is now a favorite family meal in our house. This version, which I fortify with roasted Romanesco cauliflower and a bit of spinach, is perfect for satisfying the whole family. (And they’ll never know they got a full serving of vegetables with the experience.)  Just be ready to be transported. When this sauce permeates your kitchen, it will make your home smell like an Italian coastal town.

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Puttanesca sauce in a pot with a black spoon
Puttanesca Sauce with Romanesco Cauliflower, Spinach and Oregano
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
50 mins
Total Time
1 hr

Diane Brown offers this seductive rendition of Puttanesca sauce flavored with oregano and layered with veggies. 

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Puttanesca
Dish Type: sauce
Diet and Health: gluten-free, healthy-ish
Seasonal: autumn, Father's Day, Holiday season, spring, Valentine's Day, winter
Ingredient: romanesco
Servings: 4 servings
Created by: Diane Brown
  • 1 head romanesco cauliflower cut into florets (or regular cauliflower if Romanesco is not in season)
  • olive oil
  • Fresh ground pepper and kosher salt to taste
  • 6 garlic cloves thinly sliced
  • 3 anchovy filets chopped
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 15-oz cans whole tomatoes with their juices pureed in a food processor
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp capers rinsed and drained
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1 pinch red chile flakes
  • 1 bunch spinach cleaned and chopped
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Season the cauliflower with olive oil, pepper and salt, and roast on a parchment-lined baking sheet until browned and tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

  2. Heat a large stock pot and add olive oil. Cook the garlic, anchovies and onions until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes, olives, capers, oregano and chile flakes, and bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  4. Cook until the tomatoes thicken and sweeten, about 30-40 minutes.
  5. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted, then stir in the cauliflower.
  6. Season with pepper and salt.
  7. Serve over pasta for a classic Pasta Puttanesca or spoon over fish or chicken.

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