Puttanesca with A Japanese Twist

Puttanesca with A Japanese Twist

It has long been a point of family pride — Freeman / Riva pride — that we always have capers in the refrigerator.  It is a metaphor for maintaining a certain level of dignity:  Life should never get so out-of-control that you can’t manage to spruce up your tuna or a dish of pork chops with those tart, pickle-esque, mustardy little green flower buds. The biggest benefit to always having capers in the larder is the ability to make a Pasta Puttanesca on demand, which, for me,  is usually once or twice a month.  A good puttanesca is a riot of flavors — a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes, saltiness from the olives, an acidic tang from the capers, a funk from the seafood.  My family is addicted to the dish, my wife often mutters that she could eat it every day — I suspect, that beyond my other dubious good qualities, my puttanesca is why she still loves me.

Puttanesca means “prostitute’s sauce,” an allusion to the fact that it could make quickly in between assignations.  The classic elements are anchovies, garlic, capers, olives, tomatoes, and parsley served (most typically) over spaghetti.

Since moving to Japan, I have kept up with my caper pride.   I brought 3 huge jars here when we moved (they traveled via boat with the majority of our possessions) and I have re-upped my stash between gifts from visitors and brief trips to the US. So, my puttanesca duties have continued; in fact, my puttanesca has thrived in Japan due to the introduction of a classic Japanese ingredient: katsuobushi aka dried bonito flakes.  Katsuobushi is one of those food things, that boggles the imagination in terms of how it was actually discovered.  Essentially, katsuobushi is the end product of a nearly month-long process, of drying, smoking and fermenting young bonito until you get something that resembles (both visually and in terms of hardness) a piece of wood.  This is then shaved (using a special plane) into foods for a smokey, umami flavor that is the basis for much of Japanese stocks and cuisine.  So far as I know, it is a food product unique to Japan.  Add it to a puttanesca and you get an entirely new layer of flavor that both adds to and highlights the other ingredients.

So, I thought I would share my Puttanesca recipe with you all as it tastes great and your families and friends will be thrilled with the results.  Bear in mind that my version of puttanesca deviates strongly from the classic.

Gather the following:

1/2 a medium-sized yellow onion, 6 cloves of garlic, capers, anchovies, kalamata olives, whole sardines, can of tuna fish (preferably good, Italian tuna packed in olive oil), white wine, can of San Marzano whole tomatoes, parsley, salt, pepper, red pepper or Allepo flakes and some Katsuobushi (you can get at any Japanese or Asian supermarket).  I like serving this sauce with spaghetti, but you can also use fusilli to great effect.

Dice up your onion and garlic and sautee in olive oil with two fillets of anchovy.  Sautee until onion is translucent and garlic is nice and yellow.  Add drained can of tuna and sardines.  Stir breaking up the fish and sprinkle in a hefty pinch of roughly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes.  Add your tomatoes and crush them up with your spoon.  Add a half cup of white wine and increase the heat until the alcohol bubbles away.  Add a bunch of drained capers and 4 loosely packed tablespoons of Katsuobushi.  Reduce heat to a nice simmer and taste for seasoning — anchovies, capers, etc. have different levels of saltiness depending on the brand so you want to wait until this point to feel out how much salt to add.  Turn heat to low as you prepare your pasta.  Chop up a handful of parsley and 8 pitted olives.  When pasta is right before Al Dente, add it to your sauce alongside a ladleful of the pasta water.  Turn up heat and rapidly stir your pasta, making sure everything is properly coated — if it seems too dry add an additional ladle of pasta water.  Toss in your olives!  Keep stirring until pasta is properly al dente.  Turn off the heat, garnish with your parsley and a hit of good olive oil and serve.

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