Lynda Balslev: Leaning in to puttanesca
Special to The Union
It took me a long while to make puttanesca sauce, the feisty Italian tomato sauce packed with sharp, pungent and briny flavors. I admit it was the anchovies that gave me pause. While I don’t mind anchovies in moderation, I don’t liberally cook with them, either, foolishly reverting to a childhood bias against their salty fishiness. I should know better.
Anchovies are a magical ingredient, a bright star in the cuisines of the Mediterranean and Asia (think fish sauce). When used in moderation, anchovies melt into a dish, amplifying its overall flavor and producing an elusive umami quality that keeps us digging in for more. Anchovies work particularly well when combined with other strong ingredients, which is why they are a marvelous component in puttanesca sauce, which teems with tomatoes, olives, garlic, chili flakes and capers.
Puttanesca sauce is often served with pasta, but it’s also delicious with fish. In this recipe it complements briny, sweet shrimp. I tweaked it to make a fresher rendition, with whole grape (or cherry) tomatoes replacing canned plum tomatoes. Simply cook them long enough so that they begin to break down and release their juices. A splash of white wine adds the extra moisture needed for the sauce. If desired, you can serve the shrimp puttanesca over pasta or rice. This makes an easy weeknight dinner and can be prepared in about 30 minutes.
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: Serves 4
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
20 to 24 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 anchovy filets, chopped
1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
1 pound grape tomatoes, halved if large
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata or oil-cured olives, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons capers, drained and rinsed
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shrimp in one layer and lightly season with salt. Cook until pink on both sides and barely cooked through the centers (they will continue to cook in the sauce), about 4 minutes, turning once. Transfer to a plate.
Add 1 tablespoon oil to the same skillet. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic, anchovies and red pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, olives, white wine, tomato paste, capers and black pepper. Cook until the tomatoes break down and the sauce thickens, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently to break up the tomatoes.
Nestle the shrimp into the sauce and simmer until thoroughly cooked and heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley. Serve warm with crusty bread.
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