Spaghetti alla puttanesca

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Nina Parker serves up her vibrant spaghetti alla puttanesca recipe, inspired by the classic version whipped up by Sandro Petti on the island of Ischia in the 1950s. She serves the puttanesca sauce with wholegrain spelt spaghetti for a toothsome twist.

First published in 2016

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 obsessed with this delicious meal and 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 be 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.

Recipes from NINA Capri by Nina Parker, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on 2 June 2016 in hardback at £25, eBook £12.99

Food photography: Paul Winch-Furness

Location photography: Ivar Wigan




Spaghetti alla puttanesca

  • 7 anchovy fillets, (in extra virgin olive oil) chopped, plus 4 tbsp of the anchovy oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1/2 red chilli, deseeded and chopped, plus extra if you like more heat
  • 80g of black olives, half chopped, half left whole
  • 80g of green olives, half chopped, half left whole
  • 2 tbsp of capers
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 400g of tinned plum tomatoes
  • dry white wine, 1/2 a glass
  • 1 bunch of basil, roughly chopped
  • 1 unwaxed lemon, zested finely and juiced
  • 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, aged
  • 160g of wholegrain spelt spaghetti, dried
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper


To begin, place the oil reserved from the anchovies in a large pan and place over a medium heat. Once hot, cook the garlic and chilli in the oil for 2 minutes
Add the olives, capers, cherry tomatoes, anchovies and white wine to the pan, stir well and cook for 5–6 minutes
After this time, stir in the tinned tomatoes and bring to the boil. Simmer for approximately 10 minutes
Taste the sauce to check the seasoning, then stir in more chilli, the balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper if required
Cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions. Once cooked, drain the spaghetti, reserving a ladleful of the pasta water
Add the pasta water to the sauce to loosen it slightly, then stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice and basil. Stir in the spaghetti so everything is coated in the sauce
Serve immediately, either on 1 serving platter or on 2 plates

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Nina Parker is a London based chef, author and director of her own catering company, NINA Food. Her latest book is Nina Capri, a collection of recipes from Italy's Amalfi coast.

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