(jump to recipe)
Few years ago I stumbled upon the French concept of “Fromage Fort”. It literally means “strong cheese” and is basically when leftover odds and ends of cheese boards go to wine-scented cheese heaven, all dressed up for the next party as a convenient dip/spread. What a delightful and economical way to use expensive and delicious leftover cheeses and annoying 1/8th and 1/16th cups of white wines! If only all leftovers could be transformed this way.
A few weekends ago I put together my very first cheese board for a party and it was super fun! If I ate cheese (and I could eat cheese), I’d probably make a light dinner of it once a week with a big salad. But a cheese board is more about the arrangement and less about actually eating it, at least for me!
Of course I forgot to add the charcuterie, so added it later in strategic locations.
The cheese board was well-received, along with some leek toasts with goat cheese and lots of wine. But of course, quite a bit of it was left over! The Gigante beans from Whole Foods became lunch the next day with some quinoa and chopped parsley (also leftover), and both the spreads from Cost Plus World Market (Artichoke-Lemon Pesto and Piquillo Pepper-Artichoke Bruschetta, on the left end) will continue to grace many panini over the next few weeks. The charcuterie would be crisped up in a smoking hot oven and crushed over salads, roasted vegetables or poached eggs sometime soon.
I noticed that the remaining ingredient list (assorted chopped olives, roasted garlic, a salty, crumbly cheese like Ricotta Salata) was on its way to become a delicious Puttanesca sauce with just a few routine pantry ingredients, like canned tomatoes, capers, anchovy paste and crushed red pepper flakes. The Puttanesca is all about bright, punchy, salty briny flavors coming together in a matter of minutes, and with my leftovers, I was halfway there!
“Puttanesca” literally translates to “Prostitute’s” in Italian and there are many theories as to why this pasta is called “Puttanesca”, or the far less tasteful “whore’s spaghetti”: some say it’s because prostitutes preferred to make this quick and easy meal without investing too much time and effort (since this recipe can be made almost entirely from the pantry and requires almost no fresh ingredients, thus saving a trip to the market); others say the prostitutes used the bold and vibrant fragrance of this dish to lure patrons in. Who are we to judge? We just want some good pasta.
I absolutely love pasta sauces that come together while the pasta is cooking and at the same time, pack a good punch and don’t seem compromised or boring. I don’t have any pictures of the cooking process as I made this at a very ungodly hour (in terms of good light) with tummies rumbling, but I’ve outlined the recipe below in detail.
The quantities of various ingredients can be adjusted to taste, but I wouldn’t suggest skipping any! Especially the Anchovy Paste. I know that skipping the Anchovy paste would make this recipe vegetarian, so if that’s the only thing stopping you then go ahead and skip it by all means, but if not, please give it a shot! I was quite reluctant to add it myself but I was glad I did – it adds a background saltiness that’s hard to get otherwise! Spaghetti is traditional here but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with Penne Regate, if you wish to make it easier to eat.
• Recipe •
(Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen)
8 ounces Spaghetti (dry pasta)
1 teaspoon Extra-virgin Olive Oil
4 cloves Garlic, roasted and smashed (or minced if fresh)
2 tablespoons Parsley, chopped coarsely
1/4-1/3 cup assorted Greek Olives, pitted and chopped (avoid cheese-stuffed olives if possible)
2 tablespoons Capers, drained
1/2 teaspoon Anchovy Paste (optional)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed Red Pepper flakes (to taste)
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1-2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
1 ounce Ricotta Salata cheese, cubed into small bits
Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil (with a teaspoon or so of Olive Oil), add pasta and cook according to the directions on the package. Once the pasta is cooked (around 8-10 minutes), save about 1/4 cup of the starchy pasta water in a separate bowl or measuring cup with a spout, and drain out the pasta. Wipe out the pasta pot and add the cooked pasta back to the pot. Keep warm.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a medium pot or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the roasted garlic warm through, about half a minute. Add the chopped parsley, olives, capers, anchovy paste and crushed red pepper to the skillet all at once, and saute for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant.
Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 3-4 minutes, ensuring it doesn’t become too dry.
When the pasta is done, off the heat add the sauce to the pasta pot with the grated parmesan cheese (if using), tossing well with tongs to combine. If the pasta seems too dry, add a tablespoon or 2 of the reserved pasta water to thin it out without making it water.
*the parmesan cheese will help the sauce stick to the pasta better, but this can also be achieved with the starchy pasta water, if you want to keep the preparation dairy free! In that case, skip the Ricotta Salata as well.