The first time I had this dish was over my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Sal’s house in Paterson, New Jersey. My uncle was a wonderful cook and whenever we went to visit he would always prepare something new and delicious.
Pasta Puttanesca only became popular around 1960 so my Uncle Sal was always on the cutting edge of what was new and exciting in the world of food. I remember going to my first “Beefsteak” with my aunt and uncle. They had a lot of friends and socialized quite a bit. I would call my Uncle Sal one of the original “foodies”.
They had a nice party room set up in the basement, complete with bar and kitchen. The moment I walked into their house I could smell the aromas of garlic and vinegar and immediately got hungry in anticipation of something good coming to the table.
We would usually start off the Sunday afternoon with a plate of antipasta. Dried sausage, sharp provolone cheese, olives. Sometimes they would have stuffed breads, with broccoli rabe and Italian sausage, and escarole. My Uncle Sal would be behind the bar preparing an extra dry martini for himself and my Aunt Phyllis. My parents didn’t drink so they were busy stuffing themselves with all the goodies on the table. Give my mother a slice of Italian bread and some provolone cheese and she’s good for the day.
Of course I was too young for a martini, so I would go into my uncle’s fridge and pull out a bottle of “Vim-up”, a locally made lemon-lime soda my uncle used to buy. In those days Paterson still had a large Italian population so all the cheeses and sopressata my uncle bought were the best.
After the first wave of food, before the main course, I would go outside with my cousins Patty and Johnny and play ball or just goof around. Before we knew it, dinner was ready and we were on our way back downstairs sitting at the table and ready to dig in to whatever my uncle prepared. We would usually start off with a pasta dish, on this day it was Linguine Puttanesca. And it was good! They usually made enough for a second serving and my mother would tell me not to fill up on the pasta because there was more food coming. Roast pork with onions and gravy, string beans with vinegar and garlic and oil, roasted potatoes, and to finish the meal, a large salad.
By the time we were finished we couldn’t stand up from the table. My Aunt Phyllis would say “mangia, baby Peter”. I didn’t need encouragement!
For the trip home my mother would always fill a jar of water, in case anyone got thirsty for the hour trip back to Brooklyn. Those were the days before bottled water. We would head over the George Washington Bridge and take the West Side Highway home. That was when the West Side Highway was an elevated highway, complete with curves and cobblestones. We would pass above the meat market that was busy at that hour. I remember seeing a full sized truck that was a billboard on the side of the highway. Passing people’s apartments and all the old buildings that lined the West Side Highway. And then at the end my father would go through the streets of Manhattan, cutting across the city to get to the Brooklyn Bridge. I always enjoyed the trip home, enjoying the sights and smells of the Big City.
By he time my father pulled into the driveway at home I was fast asleep. I only awoke for a second to find myself over my father’s shoulder as he carried me into the house, already in my pajamas, and put me to bed.
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- one 28-35 ounce can Italian peeled tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano or 3 sprigs of fresh oregano, chopped
- 1/2 cup pitted and chopped oil cured or gaieta olives
- 1/4 cup capers
- 4-5 anchovy fillets, drained
- 1/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1 pound linguine
- salt to taste
In a large skillet, enough to hold the sauce and cooked pasta, cook onion, garlic, hot pepper flakes and anchovy in the olive oil over low heat for 3 minutes. Break up the anchovy so they dissolve in the oil.
Raise the heat to medium and add tomatoes, oregano and sugar. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until thickened.
Stir in the olives, capers, and parsley and cook 2-3 minutes more. Taste for salt now.
Cook the pasta according to directions. Drain the pasta and add to the simmering sauce. Toss well and serve immediately. Garnish with more fresh parsley, and serve with plenty of grated Romano Cheese.