This Italian Sausage Puttanesca is a delicious entree for a dinner party, but it’s also great for a weeknight meal. It can be made ahead, freezes well and its a big hit with young and old alike!
I’ve been making this delicious Italian-inspired meal for the last few months and it’s been a huge hit with everyone I’ve served it to. When Scott asks, “What’s for dinner?” and I say “Italian Sausage Puttanesca” his eyes light up and he’s a happy camper all day in anticipation. I think it might be up there with his all-time favorite, our Eggplant and Italian Sausage Gratin – believe me, that’s saying A LOT!
What is puttanesca?
You might not be familiar with puttanesca as it’s not a common, run-of-the-mill entree that you’ll find at any mom and pop Italian restaurant. But if you google “puttanesca”, you’ll find, surprisingly, there are a zillion different varieties. Recipes with chicken, shrimp, fish, pork, calamari, eggplant, cauliflower and on and on it goes… The common denominator in all these puttanesca recipes are a few classic ingredients; tomatoes, olive oil, Gaeta or Kalamata olives, capers, anchovies and (of course) garlic. It’s generally served with pasta, but there are recipes for puttanesca over polenta, puttanesca pizza, puttanesca risotto… like I said, a zillion different renditions!
What is the origin of puttanesca?
The explanations of the origin of puttanesca, reported to have been invented in Italy in the 1950s, are interesting, to say the least. Some sources trace it to brothels of the Spanish Quarters of Naples where a “lady of the night” is a puttana in Italian. Another theory, according to Italy magazine, is that the name originated “in a famous restaurant in Ischia (an island in the Gulf of Naples). The story goes that late one night a group of hungry customers asked the owner, who didn’t have many ingredients left, to make “una puttanata qualsiasi”, meaning that he should just throw something together with whatever ingredients he had.
Well, whatever the origin, sordid or not, puttanesca is incredibly delicious and something you want to put on the menu SOON! I’ve served it to kids and adults and everyone has loved it.
I decided to go with an Italian sausage puttanesca and have tweaked the recipe a bit here and there along the way. We love the final result and know it will be one of those recipes I’ll be making frequently.
It’s not a difficult recipe, but you’ll want to have about an hour when you can hang out in or around the kitchen. You’ll start by building a flavor base with the Italian sausage. This will take about 30 minutes, but you can be prepping the other ingredients while the sausage slowly does it’s magic. The “magic” happens when the sausage is slowly sautéd until deep golden all the way around and a fond develops on the bottoms of the pan.
What’s a fond?
Unless you’ve done a lot of cooking, you might not be familiar with the word “fond”. It has nothing to do with the familiar Mirriam Webster English definition of fond: having an affection or liking. Nope, when we talk about fond in the culinary world, we’re referring to a French word (pronounced fahn) that defines the bits of concentrated browned food (especially meat) that adhere to the bottom of a pan or pot in the cooking process. Fond creates incredible flavor and is the foundation for this Italian Sausage Puttanesca.
When the sausages are deep golden and the wonderful fond has formed on the bottom of the pot it’s time to remove the links and pour off any extra fat. Chopped onions come next which will loosen the fond as they sauté and release their moisture.
When the onions are tender it’s time for a little blooming. Blooming? Yes, but not in a flowery sense. “Blooming” in culinary language means to bring out the flavor of something. So we “bloom” the garlic, anchovy paste, capers and Italian seasoning by simply sautéing them for a minute before continuing with the other ingredients creating another layer of flavor
Next comes red wine, which is reduced for a few minutes to concentrate the flavor (and cook off the alcohol). After this, your job is a piece of cake. Simply dump in all the other ingredients, fire-roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, olives and fresh basil, bring it to a steady simmer and let it go for 30-40 minutes. The aroma is amazing and you end up with a big pot of deliciousness for your efforts!
Make ahead or freeze!
I love that this Italian Sausage Puttanesca can be made several days in advance. In fact, it’s one of those dishes that just seems to get better and better as the flavors have a chance to mingle and marry. This makes it perfect for a low-stress dinner party, but it’s also a dish that’s great to make on the weekend for a quick, easy, delicious weeknight meal!
I just made a double batch of this recipe and have a nice big container of it in the freezer. It will be wonderful for entertaining, but I also love to have it on hand to share with others when the need arises. Know someone who just had a baby? Recovering from surgery? Or maybe just someone who’s having a rough week. A container of this Italian Sausage Puttanesca along with a package of pasta is a perfect way to show you care!
I love to serve this dish with a simple green salad and a loaf of crusty bread, like our Easy No Knead Brioche Bread. I keep my freezer stocked with these little loaves of bread as they are so perfect for entertaining. I just take one or two out of the freezer and let them thaw for a few hours. Then about 15 minutes before dinner time, I pop them in a 300˚F oven to let them get warm and crusty. So delicious!
Put this Italian Sausage Puttanesca on your “must-make-soon” list. Don’t be surprised if you get requests for it again and again!
Café Tips for making this Italian Sausage Puttanesca
- This recipe calls for 1¼ pounds of Italian sausage. You want the uncooked sausage links vs. the bulk variety of Italian sausage. We love the Johnsonville brand and it’s widely available across the U.S., but there are also other companies that make delicious Italian sausage. Choose your favorite.
- Give the Italian sausage plenty of time to brown. You want it to slowly brown, so keep the heat on a low-medium level. This is the part of the recipe where you’ll need to be nearby to keep an eye on it. Keep a small glass of water near the cooktop and add a little every now and then to keep the sausage from sticking to the pot and to develop the fond.
- Don’t skip the anchovy paste! I’m not fond (at all) of anchovies but they are an integral part of the flavor of puttanesca. The paste totally melts into the sauce and I promise you won’t know they’re in this dish! It’s part of the puttanesca magic!
- Anchovy paste can be found in the same area as the canned tuna in most grocery stores. It comes in a tube and lasts for 3-6 months in the refrigerator after opening.
- Although I think salt is super important to bring out the flavor in just about every dish, this puttanesca probably won’t need any additional salt. The capers, olives and anchovies all add salty flavor. I recommend taking a taste, just before serving. You can always add a little salt but you can’t take it away.
- This recipe calls for a half cup of dry red wine. Cooking wine is not a good choice, as it has salt in it that could make this dish overly salty. You don’t need an expensive wine, but rather one you would enjoy drinking. Merlot, Chianti, Côtes du Rhône, Pinot Noir and Cabernet are all good choices. If you don’t drink wine and don’t care to buy wine for this recipe, just skip it. Wine does add a nice layer of flavor, but this Italian Sausage Puttanesca has so many other layers of flavor, it will still be delicious!
- You can serve this dish with any kind of pasta. I usually use fettuccine or linguine but angel hair pasta, orecchiette or tubular pasta would also be great.
- I love the flavor of the fresh pasta you can purchase in the dairy section of most larger grocery stores. In addition to being incredibly delicious this pasta cooks in 2-3 minutes so it’s an awesome time-saver.
- The true Italian recipe for puttanesca calls for Gaeta olives which are small dark purple salty olives that are named after the Italian town of Gaeta (s outh of Rome). Gaeta olives can be difficult to find so Kalamata olives are an acceptable substitute.
- Need a gift idea for someone who loves to cook? This Staub Cast Iron Cocotte/Dutch Oven is a little workhorse that also makes a great serving container. It’s also attractive enough to use as a serving dish and is so well made, it will last forever!
Thought for the day:
Praise the name of God forever and ever,
for he has all wisdom and power.
He controls the course of world events;
he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the scholars.
He reveals deep and mysterious things
and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
though he is surrounded by light.
What we’re listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear other’s results and ideas for variations.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 medium-size Italian sausage (I use Johnsonville which comes in a 5 sausage-pack,19-ounces total)
- 1 cup water
- 1 large sweet onion finely diced
- 4 medium cloves garlic finely minced
- 1 tablespoon anchovy paste
- 3 tablespoons capers
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- ½ cup red wine
- 28 ounces fire-roasted diced tomatoes (I use 2 14.5-ounce cans)
- 1 28- ounce can crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup halved pitted Kalamata olives
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves roughly chopped, more for garnish
- shaved parmesan cheese for garnish
- toasted pine nuts for garnish
- fresh basil leaves for garnish
Heat oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over low-medium heat. Have water near the stove. Add the sausage links and cook until deep golden brown, turning occasionally and adding a tablespoon of water every now and then so they don’t stick to the pan. Each time you add water, let it completely cook off and let the sausages sizzle a bit before adding more. When sausages are deeply golden on all sides (takes about 20 minutes), remove them from the pan.
Pour off all but two tablespoons of the fat from the pan. The pan should have a nice brown fond at the bottom. Add the chopped onion. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic, anchovy paste, capers and Italian seasoning and let them “bloom” cooking for another minute, stirring frequently.
Add the red wine and cook until most of it has evaporated then add the fire-roasted tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, Kalamata olives and half of the fresh basil leaves. Simmer, uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until sauce is thickened.
While the sauce is simmering, slice the sausage about ⅛-¼-inch thick. After sauce is finished simmering, add the sausage back in. Stir in the remaining chopped basil. Taste and add salt, if needed.
Serve over pasta and garnish with, shaved parmesan, toasted pine nuts and/or fresh basil leaves.
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips.