“ slut's spaghetti ”
– the ever-subtle Nigella

That is, apparently, how it earned its name, having been favoured by prostitutes and women of leisure too preoccupied to make it to the market early for fresh ingredients. 

Everybody loves pasta. But too many people rely on sugar laden sauces-in-a-jar when it comes to eating the stuff. Which is a shame because spaghetti puttanesca, or “slut’s spaghetti” as the ever-subtle Nigella calls is, is one of the easiest cupboard ingredient dishes you could make. 

Which, of course, also makes it perfect for students. 

There’s no messing around with fresh basil or mushrooms, which go downhill quickly after a day or two in the fridge, and no need to pick through a forgotten bag of onions looking for the most edible. In its most basic form, this puttanesca recipe has only five ingredients, and the “fancy” version still only requires seven. This makes the dish easily up-gradable in times of plenty and cut back down to basics when money is tight. 

The basic ingredient list (with some money saving hints of mine) is:

Spaghetti – 100g (Tesco sells 500g of spaghetti for 20p)

Tomato purée – one tablespoon (40p from most supermarkets)

Easy/cheat’s Garlic – one teaspoon (although more expsenive than cloves at around £1.50, its’ super easy and lasts ages). You could make this product yourself, extremely cheaply, by buying a huge tub of dried garlic and soaking them in vinegar

Anchovies – three or four fillets (a small tin usually contains around 12 fillets and is 70p)

Black olives - Small handful, sliced thinly (a tin of pre-sliced black olives is 75p)

To upgrade the dish, you’ll need: 

Capers – one or two teaspoons, cut in half (if you can be bothered, if not just crush them with the flat of a knife) 

Parmesan – 20 or so grams, grated or shaved with a vegetable peeler (more of a suggestion, as any hard Italian cheese will do). Most supermarkets now have their own generic version of hard Italian cheese half the price of “proper” Parmesan. 

If you can find them, tinned cherry tomatoes also make a great upgrade for the tomato purée. Tesco do a can of finest cherry tomatoes for 90p.


  • Get a big saucepan of boiling water. Don’t be tempted to use too small a pan, as the more room you give the pasta to move around the water the more evenly it cooks and the less likely it is to stick. Don’t salt the water. If it was any other pasta dish I would recommend it but between the anchovies, olives, and capers, you’re getting plenty of salt already. Throw in the 100g of pasta. Jamie Oliver does a fancy little twist with his spaghetti which splays it out evenly. Google it. Set a timer for whatever time the spaghetti packet recommends, minus one minute. Then start on the sauce.
  • Put a reasonable glug of olive oil in a frying pan that’s over a low to medium heat. Let the oil heat up until it loses some of its viscosity and you can easily move it around the pan. Throw in the garlic. Don’t let the garlic burn. If you see it start to go brown, move it off the heat, as burned garlic starts to go bitter. It should only take a minute or so to start to smell cooked. 
  • Add the anchovies and break them up briefly with a wooden spoon, then mix them into the garlic and oil. They should start to melt once they get hot. 
  • Finally, add the olives. You don’t want to fry the olives, just move them around the pan and let them mix in with everything before adding the tomato purée. 
  • Let everything mix together for a moment then add some water. A few tablespoons should be enough, hot or cold, until it starts to look like a thick sauce. This is the stage you would add your capers, if you were feeling adventurous (or wealthy). 
  • Once the timer goes off for the spaghetti, throw it into a colander then immediately throw it back into the pan. You don’t want to lose all the starchy water that helps the sauce stick to the pasta. Now, simply take everything off the heat and add the sauce to the cooked pasta and stir it all through.
  • Season with black pepper if possible. Put it in as big a bowl as you can find and add the Parmesan on top (again, if you feel like it). 

There you have it. You can now make Puttanesca, which sounds impressive if people don’t know how easy it is. I wouldn’t exactly call it a healthy meal, but it beats a frozen pizza in terms of after-dinner shame. It’s cheaper too. 

Have you got a recipe you think students will enjoy? We want to hear from you! Email joinus@myunibasics.co.uk 

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Written by Nikolas Maxwell, 10 months ago
Agree? Disagree? You can tweet them here @@nikdotmaxwell

Prices checked on 16/01/2017. Photo credit Steven Depolo.