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Anchovies As much as I would like to run the family kitchen like dictator and decide for everyone what they should eat, I don't. I run it more like a very small restaurant, with a very limited  menu. The menu is not on a chalkboard (although that might help once the kids learn to read), and it is not printed up on paper. It is a verbal menu. I tell the kids what I can make for them on a given day, and give them a choice or two.

As simple as this is, it can be confusing for a young child, mostly because I'm giving them the choice of lunch and dinner before I've given them breakfast. At 7:45 a.m., I'll say, "Do you want puttanesca for dinner?" and Pinta will reply in that plaintive way known only to two-year olds and mega-rich rock stars, "I want it now!"

I have to explain to her that I don't have it made yet, never mind that it's not something one eats for breakfast, and that the oatmeal that she was demanding moments ago is already boiling on the stove. She gets it, eventually.

So it went the other morning, when Pinta was tossing her head back and crying out for puttanesca. No problem, I told her, I'll make it for your dinner. Lately, it's been one of her favorites.

The beautiful thing about puttanesca, besides its rich and salty taste, is that it is one of the easiest things in the kitchen to make. And all of its ingredients are things that don't spoil and can, and should, be kept on hand at all times. I put the sauce together in the brief moment it took Santa Maria to get the milk and cereal from our kitchen to the dining-room table. 

The sauce gives off a slightly odd smell for eight in the morning, but knowing that it would be ready for their baby sitter to give to them for dinner was very comforting.

Puttanesca sauce is perhaps one of the oldest recipes in the world. It is a storied sauce, and no matter the hour. it's a tale worth contemplating. Its origins are often traced to Naples and to the prostitutes of that seaside city. Puttanesca derives from the Italian for prostitute, puttana, and for some, its pungent and enticing aroma calls to mind what Courbert captured so gamely in l'Origine du Monde. The story I favor is that puttanesca sauce came into being because the prostitutes needed something to make between customers, and they didn't want to waste time. I know what it feels like to be rushed.

I finished the sauce by throwing in the olives and capers while doing the breakfast dishes. As delicious as the sauce turned out, I learned later that Pinta spurned it that evening. Win some, lose some. And that means more sauce for me.

Puttanesca Sauce

  • 1 28 oz. can peeled plum tomatoes, crushed (or hit with an immersion blender, which is very fast)
  • 4 or more cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 chili pepper
  • 1T capers
  • 12 or so black olives, sliced
  • herbs such as basil or oregano to taste (completely optional)

        Heat some olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the garlic and anchovies and chili pepper. Saute until garlic is soft, add tomatoes and reduce.

        When the sauce thickens (in about fifteen minutes), add capers and olives and any herbs.

        Serve over the pasta of your choice.

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