When my husband and I were first dating we had a favorite Italian restaurant in Berkeley called Café Venezia. It was a tiny place with murals on the walls, laundry hanging from the ceiling, and Italian opera singing in the background. They didn’t take reservations and there was always a line out the door, or scrunched in the tiny entryway (if it was cold and wet). We had a trick for bypassing the line. They had a sister restaurant called Restaurant Venezia across the street; it was much fancier with white tablecloths, live music, and a bar. We would put our name on the list for the tiny Café, take a large card with a number on it, go across the street to the bar in the restaurant, and have a glass of wine. When our table was ready, the cafe would post a matching card in their window (we could see it sitting in the bar). The remainder of our wine (if there was any) was poured into a paper cup, and we crossed the street to dinner.
Do you have a favorite menu item with wonderful memories?
We were very sad when that café and restaurant closed. They made the best Pasta Puttanesca we have ever tasted. My husband still orders the Puttanesca when we go out, and is almost always disappointed. So, since he requests this for every birthday dinner, I set about creating a recipe for Puttanesca like the one from Café Venezia. It took a few dozen tries to get the right balance of ingredients, but I think I have it (he agrees).
It’s his birthday this weekend and I will be making this pasta dish for him.
There are at least two stories about how this pasta dish came about. Both involve ‘ladies of the night’. In one story this a quick pasta dish to put together between customers, in another the smell of the sauce is supposed to draw in customers. It’s convievable that both are correct! This dish is vegetarian and vegan without the anchovies or cheese.
Pasta Puttanesca (serves 2-4)
- ¼ cup of olive oil
- 1 28 oz. can Italian chopped tomatoes
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 ¼ teaspoon of dried oregano
- 15 black kalamata olives, cut in half
- 1 small can of anchovies, about 10, chopped, save the oil
- ½ lb. of fettuccini or linguini
- For serving: grated Parmesan cheese or crumbled fresh goat cheese
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, medium heat.
- Add the garlic and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook until soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Watch your skillet (every stove is different) carefully, you want to cook the garlic till is is honey colored or light brown. If it burns it will turn bitter.
- Add the tomatoes, capers, oregano, chili flakes, and olives.
- Cook on low heat for 20 minutes.
- After the time is up, add the chopped anchovies and the reserved olive oil from the can to your sauce.
- Keep the sauce on low heat while the pasta is cooking.
- While the sauce is simmering for the 20 minutes, start the pasta.
- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil (the water should taste like the sea).
- Add your pasta to the boiling water, bring it back to the boil and cook for the time suggested on the package.
- When cooked, reserve about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water, and drain your pasta. Do not rinse.
- Add the cooked pasta to the skillet with the sauce and reheat all.
- Add the pasta water by tablespoons if it seems too dry.
- Taste carefully for salt, it probably won’t need any since it contains so many salty things.
Grate fresh Parmesan over each serving, or top with crumbled goat cheese.
We think the trick is the last minute addition of the oil from the anchovies.
I like mine with goat cheese.