It took me a long while to make puttanesca sauce, the feisty Italian tomato sauce packed with sharp, pungent and briny flavors. I admit it was the anchovies that gave me pause. While I don’t mind anchovies in moderation, I don’t liberally cook with them, either, foolishly reverting to a childhood bias against their salty fishiness. I should know better.
Anchovies are a magical ingredient, a bright star in the cuisines of the Mediterranean and Asia (think fish sauce). When used in moderation, anchovies melt into a dish, amplifying its overall flavor and producing an elusive umami quality that keeps us digging in for more. Anchovies work particularly well when combined with other strong ingredients, which is why they are a marvelous component in puttanesca sauce, which teems with tomatoes, olives, garlic, chili flakes and capers.
Puttanesca sauce is often served with pasta, but it’s also delicious with fish. In this recipe it complements briny, sweet shrimp. I tweaked it to make a fresher rendition, with whole grape (or cherry) tomatoes replacing canned plum tomatoes. Simply cook them long enough so that they begin to break down and release their juices. A splash of white wine adds the extra moisture needed for the sauce. If desired, you can serve the shrimp puttanesca over pasta or rice. This makes an easy weeknight dinner and can be prepared in about 30 minutes.