Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | May 10, 2012

Thoughts on Italian Cooking

by Ernest Barteldes

Italian cooking is popular all over the world, and that popularity reflects in my kitchen as well. Though I rarely go out to Italian restaurants, I do have a number of recipes that have become staples in my home due to their simplicity. Many dishes can be prepared in less than 30 minutes without sacrificing any flavors.

Of course not every dish is that easy to make – anyone who has gone through the process of making eggplant parmesan, risotto or rolattini knows that many Italian dishes are extremely labor-intensive and can take hours to make – but anyone who has seen the PBS show Lidia’s Italy can attest on how easily some of these classics can be prepared. I recall watching her making pasta matricciana once and was impressed on how quickly she put it together – I memorized the recipe without ever having to take any notes. She simply boiled some sliced onions in a little water, added diced tomatoes, fresh basil and some olive oil at the end of the process, serving it over linguini and pairing with a red wine (I think it was a sangiovese, but I cannot be sure).

I often cook Italian dishes at home, going from simple lasagna (I cheat though, since I used ready-to-bake noodles) to mushroom risotto or the above-mentioned rolattini (made with ricotta and spinach). It’s always a pleasure to prepare, and of course the enjoyment that comes with it is worth it every time.

One Italian favorite that is in constant rotation at home is penne puttanesca, a spicy concoction that can be made in about 15 minutes.  According to legend, the dish was created in Napoli by the ‘ladies of the night,’ who prepared it between customers. “Puttanesca” translates as “in the style of the whore.” The name originates from the Italian word puttana which means whore.  Whether this is true or not I have no idea, but that it is sinfully delicious, that it is.

The recipe below is a variation from the original – here we include a little tuna to make it more flavorful.

Penne Puttanesca with tuna (adapted from Gourmet magazine)

  • 1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 anchovy filets, chopped
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped garlic
  • 4 C. peeled, chopped, and seeded fresh roma tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • (to taste) salt
  • 8 oz. dried Italian penne rigate pasta
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. capers
  • 8-10 kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 can tuna in olive oil, drained


Heat all but 1 Tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add anchovies and cook, stirring until the anchovies dissolve.

Add garlic and cook for about 15 seconds. Raise the heat to medium-high and add tomatoes, bay leaf, and salt. When the sauce comes to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer until the tomatoes have reduced and separated from the oil. This may take 20-40 minutes then remove sauce from heat, remove Bay leaf and set sauce aside.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot; add 1 tsp. of salt, and add the penne. Stir for at least one minute and let it return to a boil.

When the pasta is halfway done (4-5 minutes), return the sauce skillet to a medium heat, adding the basil, capers, and olives. Cook pasta until al dente; drain (reserve 1 cup cooking liquid), and return to pot. Add the tuna to sauce and mix it with the pasta.  If the mixed pasta and sauce seem a bit too dry, add the reserved cooking water.




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