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Quick and Easy Bucatini Puttanesca

This Quick and Easy Bucatini Puttanesca is an Italian classic that pairs pasta with a spicy tomato sauce made with olive oil, garlic, anchovies, olives, and capers…lots of bold, delicious flavors!

Ready to eat in 30 minutes and made mostly with pantry ingredients, this meatless meal is perfect for a speedy weeknight supper and is even impressive enough for serving guests. It’s budget-friendly too!

But no one will guess that you didn’t spend hours in the kitchen making this pasta puttanesca. In fact, by the time you boil the water and cook the pasta, the sauce will be done.

And if you’re like I was and think you don’t like or might not like some of those ingredients – anchovies, I’m looking at you – please don’t shy away from trying this recipe just once. It may just turn out to be a favorite that you make again and again (it was for me!).

The anchovies melt into the olive oil and add a wonderful salty umami (savory) flavor without making the sauce taste fishy. I’d be willing to bet that, if you didn’t already know that they’re in there, you wouldn’t know that they’re in there. All you’ll notice is the deliciousness.

The olives and capers add a briny tang. And when you put them all together with the olive oil, tomatoes, lots of garlic, herbs, crushed red pepper flakes, and pasta, it’s a winning combination!

bucatini puttanesca in a large skillet with white bowls and forks stacked on the side

What is Bucatini?

Bucatini (pronounced like boo-ka-tee-nee) is pasta that is similar to spaghetti, but it’s thicker and has a hole running through the center, which makes it better for soaking up sauces. The word buco means hole in Italian. It is also known as perciatelli.

If you don’t have or can’t get bucatini, spaghetti or thick spaghetti are great substitutes.

Why Is It Called Puttanesca?

There are lots of origin stories for how pasta alla puttanesca got its name, but some of the more popular ones are based on the name being derived from the Italian word puttana, which translates to whore or prostitute.

Some say that the so-called ladies of the night made it as a quick meal between serving clients, while others say that they made the sauce and put it in the window to attract clients with its strong aroma. Or maybe it’s just that the sauce is fast and easy.

Whatever the case, it’ll be on the table in a flash, your house will smell like an Italian restaurant while it’s cooking, and it’ll make your taste buds sing!

the ingredients needed to make bucatini puttanesca: bucatini pasta, canned crushed tomatoes, kalamata olives, capers, anchovy paste, garlic, olive oil, basil, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, sugar, salt and pepper

Ingredients You Need

  • Bucatini pasta
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fresh garlic
  • Anchovy paste
  • Canned crushed tomatoes
  • Kalamata olives (get the pitted ones for easy prep)
  • Capers
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Dried basil
  • Dried oregano
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Fresh parsley or basil (for garnish, optional)
  • Freshly grated parmesan cheese (for serving, optional)

Note: Ingredient amounts are in the recipe card at the end of the post.

Note: The above video is just a brief overview of the steps. The full printable recipe with ingredient amounts and detailed instructions are in the recipe card at the end of the post.

Recipe Tips & Tidbits

  • To be sure this dish is done in 30 minutes, make the sauce while you are waiting for the pasta water to boil and for the pasta to cook.
  • Because this is such a quick-cooking dish, prep all of your ingredients before you start cooking.
  • Cook the pasta a minute shy of al dente. It will finish cooking in the sauce, so you don’t want it to get mushy.
  • Always salt your pasta water so the pasta isn’t bland.
  • For the best flavor, use freshly minced garlic. I find that jarred garlic can sometimes have a sour or acidic taste.
  • Don’t forget to save some of that pasta cooking water before you drain it. The starchy water can be used to thin out the sauce, if needed, and it will help the sauce cling to the pasta better.
  • Wait until the end to add salt. The anchovy paste, olives and capers will all add saltiness to the dish, so you may not need to add any at all (I often don’t).
  • This pasta is not super saucy; the bucatini will soak up quite a bit of the sauce.

Substitutions & Variations

  • Although a long, thin pasta like bucatini or spaghetti is traditional, you can really use almost any pasta shape for this dish.
  • If you’d rather use anchovy fillets instead of paste, use 2 fillets for every teaspoon of anchovy paste (so 4 fillets for this recipe); chop them up so they break up and melt into the oil easier.
  • In my opinion, kalamata olives have the best flavor. Black olives can be substituted in a pinch (but the flavor is different).
  • For a chunkier sauce, you can use diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes that you crush up with your hands.
  • Want some protein? Try topping your pasta and sauce with some cooked chicken or shrimp. Yum!
bucatini puttanesca in a white bowl with a fork next to a skillet of pasta

Storing Leftovers, Reheating and Freezing

Storing Leftovers

Store leftovers, once cooled, in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.

Reheating

Reheat leftovers in a pan or pot on the stove over low to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Add a splash or two of water if it seems a little dry and needs to be loosened up (the pasta will have soaked up more of the sauce in the refrigerator).

You can also reheat it in the microwave.

Freezing

The sauce (without the pasta) can be frozen for up to 2 to 3 months. Once cooled, place it in a freezer bag or freezer container and freeze. Thaw completely in the refrigerator before reheating and toss with freshly cooked pasta on serving day.

The sauce combined with the pasta doesn’t freeze well (the pasta can get mushy), so I don’t recommend it.

bucatini puttanesca in a white bowl with a fork and topped with chopped parsley and grated parmesan cheese with sliced Italian bread and a glass of red wine in the background

What to Serve With Bucatini Puttanesca

As with most pasta dishes, I love serving this with a simple tossed green salad and some homemade garlic bread, garlic knots, Italian bread or dinner rolls.

Some chopped fresh parsley or basil is excellent on top, and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese is always welcome!

And if you’re so inclined, a glass of red wine goes great with this pasta (my favorite is Cabernet Sauvignon).

I hope you try this Quick and Easy Bucatini Puttanesca recipe and love it as much as I do. Thanks for visiting today!

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More Italian Pasta Recipes To Try

If you make this recipe, I’d love to know how it went! Please leave a star rating and comment below. Thanks!

bucatini puttanesca in a white bowl with a fork

Quick and Easy Bucatini Puttanesca

This Quick and Easy Bucatini Puttanesca is an Italian classic that pairs pasta with a spicy tomato sauce made with olive oil, garlic, anchovies, olives, and capers…lots of bold, delicious flavors!
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Author: Michelle / Now Cook This!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
Estimated Calories: 635

Ingredients

  • 1 pound bucatini pasta
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons anchovy paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • ½ cup pitted and halved kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
  • salt, to taste (if needed)
  • chopped fresh parsley or basil, for garnish (optional)
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  • To get this dish done in 30 minutes, make the sauce while you are waiting for the pasta water to boil and for the pasta to cook.
  • Cook the bucatini in salted boiling water for 1 minute less than the time stated on the package directions for al dente (the pasta will finish cooking in the sauce, so this will keep it from getting mushy). When the pasta is finished cooking, save and set aside about a cup of the cooking water and then drain the pasta.
  • Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and anchovy paste; cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes (keep an eye on that garlic, you don't want it to turn brown or burn, as it will turn bitter).
  • Add the tomatoes, olives, capers, crushed red pepper flakes, dried basil and oregano, and sugar; stir to combine.
  • Increase the heat and bring the sauce to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat and gently simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
  • Taste the sauce and add salt, if needed (the anchovies, olives and capers will all add saltiness, so you may not need to add any at all; I often don't).
    Your sauce will probably be done before the pasta. If it is, turn off the heat on the sauce and let it sit until the pasta is done.
  • Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and toss; continue cooking and tossing over low heat for another minute or two until the pasta is evenly coated and has absorbed some of the sauce. If the pasta gets too dry, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water, as needed, to get the sauce to the desired consistency.
    This is not a super saucy dish; the pasta absorbs quite a bit of the sauce.
  • Serve immediately.
  • If desired, sprinkle each serving with chopped fresh parsley or basil and/or freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Notes

  • Because this is such a quick-cooking dish, prep all of your ingredients before you start cooking.
  • If you don’t have or can’t get bucatini, spaghetti or thick spaghetti are good substitutes (although you can really use any pasta shape you’d like for this dish).
  • You can use anchovy fillets instead of anchovy paste; use 2 fillets for every teaspoon of anchovy paste (so 4 fillets in this recipe); chop them up so they break up and melt into the oil easier.
  • For a chunkier sauce, you could use diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes that you crush up with your hands. 
  • Estimated calories shown is based on 4 servings and does not include any parmesan cheese. For 6 servings, the estimated calories is 423.
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