Recipe: Mama Mia! Try this simple spicy pasta dish with a saucy heritage

Here's a tasty and intriguing dish by Di Curtin
Recipe: Mama Mia! Try this simple spicy pasta dish with a saucy heritage
Tuna Puttanesca by Di Curtin

ITALIAN pasta sauces often have a story linked to them. But there’s none so intriguing as the history of ‘Puttanesca’.

The word translates as ‘lady of the night’, harking back to the days when the spirited girls of Naples, where this sauce originated, used what God gave them to earn a living!

There are various tales about how the name of this sauce came about. Some say it was a fast dish that could be concocted quickly between clients.

However others are adamant that it’s the spicy pungency in the taste that conjures up the spirit and beauty of the ladies in question.

Whatever the reason, the flavour combo of tomatoes, olives, garlic, chilli and capers in this famous Italian sauce is a mighty kick for the palate.


This weekend, I’ve used the components of Puttanesca to create a sustaining pasta dish with the addition of tuna.

Tuna preserved in oil is also a stalwart of the Italian cupboard, often served in a simple salad with borlotti beans and various other dishes. It’s always handy to have canned tuna in the cupboard, for its versatility in the kitchen. I always buy tuna in oil, which is absolutely the best way to buy it. Brine or water makes the flakes soggy, whilst oil enriches taste and texture. And if you really want a top class product, choose Shines Irish Tuna, caught by Irish boats when tuna are in season in Irish waters during August and September, then preserved in best olive oil in Co. Donegal.


Ingredients (Serves 4)

350g penne pasta 

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped 

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed 

Pinch dried red chilli flakes (optional, or to taste) 

400g can Italian chopped tomatoes 

Few pitted black olives, halved 

Few capers, chopped (to taste) 

Few leaves fresh basil or oregano, finely shredded 

Freshly ground black pepper 

Extra fresh herbs to finish 


  • Cook penne in boiling salted water till just al dente.
  • At the same time, heat oil in a pan and gently fry onion, garlic and chilli till soft but not browned.
  • Add tomatoes, olives and capers and bring to bubbling.
  • Add tuna and cook for about five minutes. Stir in basil and oregano and season with freshly ground black pepper.
  • Strain penne and return to pan.
  • Pour over the sauce and toss together.
  • Serve immediately with extra fresh basil sprinkled over.

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