In the 1950s Sandro Petti was the owner of a popular restaurant on Ischia called Rancho Fellone. This restaurant-come-nightclub quickly became frequented by the dolce vita who would enjoy summers on the island. One night, Sandro had some hungry customers arrive late begging him to rustle something up from the kitchen. Although he had run out of food he didn’t want to disappoint his guests so he pulled together what he could from his bare cupboards – olives, anchovies, olive oil, garlic and a few tomatoes. These ingredients were thrown together and served with spaghetti.
The guests were blown away by this delicious meal, but Sandro shrugged it off as nothing special. Those guests went on to spread the word and came back to eat it every night. Later, this throw-together dish evolved to become known as spaghetti alla puttanesca, which many translate as ‘whore’s pasta’. Davide Conte, who lives on the island and knows Sandro well, told me this wonderful story. Sadly, on this trip, I missed the opportunity to meet Sandro but Davide tells me that Sandro is still surprised when he thinks back to that night when he was in a rush in his kitchen. He could never have imagined that what he was about to create would be a dish to go down in Italian history.
7 anchovy fillets in extra virgin olive oil, chopped, plus 4 tablespoons of the anchovy oil
4 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
80g black olives, half chopped
80g green olives, half chopped
2 tbsp capers
1/2 glass of dry white wine
400g tinned plum tomatoes
Bunch of basil, roughly chopped
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
160g dried wholegrain spelt spaghetti
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil from the anchovies in a large pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and chilli and cook for 2 minutes.
Stir in the anchovies, cherry tomatoes, olives, capers and white wine, and cook for 5–6 minutes.
Add the tinned tomatoes, bring to the boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes.
Taste to check the seasoning, adding in more chilli, the balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper, if needed.
Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. When the pasta is cooked, scoop out a ladleful of the cooking water, then drain the pasta.
Add the reserved pasta water to the sauce to loosen it a little, stir in the basil, lemon zest and juice. Combine with the pasta and sauce and divide everything between 2 plates or one platter and serve immediately.
Extracted from Nina Capri by Nina Parker, £19.99, buy online
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