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50 Women Game Changers in Food – Sheila Lukins & Julee Rosso – Pasta Puttanesca

by Jeanette on September 16, 2011 · 27 Comments
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Pasta Puttanesca

This is our first full week back at school, having been delayed a week due to Hurricane Irene passing through. It’s been quite an adjustment so far as my oldest son is off to college this fall, and he was a huge help driving one of my other sons home everyday from school last year. I used to have dinner ready the minute they walked in the door. Now, every day, I am picking my son up right around dinner time (with over an hour commute) and often shuttling him or his other two brothers around in between, so getting dinner on the table has become a lot trickier. There are days when I start driving at 2PM and don’t get settled at home until near 10PM (as I’m sure many of you are as well!). So, quick and easy dinners are essential for those busy nights.

Interestingly, our meals have changed quite a bit since my oldest son went off to college. He was more of a meat and potatoes eater. The three other boys at home are happy to have a meatless (or near meatless) meal several times a week. They also have broader tastes and are more adventurous (they like Indian, Thai, Columbian, and Jamaican, and one of them has tried African food and loved it). In fact, my youngest prefers beans and rice to meat. 

I attribute this disparity in eating preferences to the fact that I was working full time when my oldest was born. He was raised primarily on chicken nuggets and fish sticks (yikes, I know, processed foods!). Although our sitter was phenomenal with kids, she did not know how to cook, but she was great with the microwave and toaster oven. After the twins were born, I cut my work schedule back, and hired a part-time sitter who happened to be a good cook and more health conscious. When I had my fourth son, I finally decided to stay home, and took over all the cooking. 

Over the years, I introduced my kids to a wider variety of vegetables beyond carrot sticks and frozen peas, including sugar snap peas, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. I also added whole grains to my kids meals like oatmeal at breakfast, whole grain flours in muffins and quick breads, sandwiches on whole grain bread, brown rice and whole grain pasta. These changes did not come easy, and I still get the occasional wise comments, but over time, my kids have learned the importance of good nutrition, which I hope they’ll take with them once they leave home.

One of the meals I made this past week was Pasta Puttanesca, a dish my oldest son would not touch, but the other boys love. Made from pantry items, I know I can throw this dish together in 15 minutes and everyone will be happy and their tummies will be satisfied. Puttanesca is a spicy tomato based sauce, with sharp flavors, the perfect foil for enjoying over whole grain pasta. Over the past several years, as I transitioned my kids from white pasta to whole grain pasta, I have found that darker, more robust sauces pair nicely with some of the heartier whole grain pastas.

This week, we tried Puttanesca Sauce with spelt pasta. Spelt pasta is new to us, and I was surprised by how mild it tasted compared to some of the whole wheat pastas. For those of you not familiar with spelt, it is an ancient grain, a cousin to wheat, high in manganese and a good source of fiber, phosphorus, vitamin B3, magnesium and protein. Although spelt is not gluten-free, some people who are sensitive to wheat have been able to tolerate spelt. This may be because the gluten in spelt is highly soluble, and breaks down during the cooking and baking process, which makes it easier to digest. People with celiac disease cannot eat spelt because it does contain gluten, but I am curious whether or not my little guy who is allergic to wheat can tolerate spelt.

I’ve been making Pasta Puttanesca for years based on a recipe I tried from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins, so when I found out that Ms. Rosso and Lukins were this week’s honorees of the 50 Women Game-Changers in food recently recognized by Gourmet Live, I decided to go back to the original recipe and make it. We’ve been cooking our way through this list of 50 influential women in food, selecting a recipe from each of them to try each week. If you’re interested in joining in on the fun, just ask Mary from One Perfect Bite

The Silver Palate Cookbook was one of the very first cookbooks I owned. I was working as a summer intern in a laboratory (back in the days when I was pre-med), and the scientist I worked for happened to be a foodie. I still have the note he inserted in the book when he gave it to me…”Jeanette, wouldn’t want you malnourished at school….”  Needless to say, I went through this cookbook page by page. Over the years, I have probably made more recipes from this single cookbook than from any other in my collection of cookbooks. If you’ve had Chicken Marbella, then you probably have heard of The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins were business partners and revolutionized the way America thought about take-out food. They opened a small gourmet food shop in New York City called the Silver Palate, selling high-end take-out food. Together, they wrote three cookbooks, The Silver Palate, The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook and The New Basics cookbook before they parted ways (I have all three, but The Silver Palate is still my favorite). Both women went on to publish several more cookbooks on their own, but reunited in 2007 to publish a 25th anniversary edition of The Silver Palate Cookbook. Sadly, Sheila Lukins died in 2009, at the age of 66 from brain cancer. Today, Julee Rosso and her husband own a small inn called Wickwood in Saugatuck, Michigan, a weekend resort town.

Pasta Puttanesca

Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook. Over the years, I have substituted chopped tomatoes for the whole peeled Italian plum tomatoes. However, after making this dish again recently using the original recipe, I would recommend using the whole plum tomatoes over chopped tomatoes – it’s definitely more flavorful. Although this pasta is best served immediately, it can be reheated successfully, perfect for school nights. For a meatless sauce, leave out the anchovies.

Printable Recipe


  • 1 pound spaghetti, linguine or other thin dried pasta (I use whole grain pasta)
  • 2 cans (2 pounds, 3 ounces each) peeled Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup best-quality olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup tiny black Nicoise olives (I used Kalamata olives), pitted
  • 1/4 cup drained capers
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 8 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley, plus additional for garnish


  1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Stir in the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain immediately when done and transfer to 4 heated plates.
  2.  While spaghetti is cooking, drain tomatoes, cut them crosswise into halves, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  3. Combine tomatoes and olive oil in a skillet and bring to a boil. Keep the sauce at a full boil and add remaining ingredients except pasta, one at a time, stirring frequently.
  4. Reduce heat slightly and continue to cook for a few minutes, or until sauce has thickened to your liking. 
  5. Serve immediately over hot pasta and garnish with additional chopped parsley.
Please stop by and take a look at what the rest of the group made this week in celebration of Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso:
Susan from The Spice Garden 
Heather from girlichef 
Claudia from A Seasonal Cook in Turkey 
Miranda from Mangoes and Chutney
April from Abby Sweets
Mary from One Perfect Bite
Kathleen from Bake Away with Me 
Viola from The Life is Good Kitchen 
Barbara from Movable Feasts 
Kathleen from Gonna Want Seconds 

Amy from Beloved Green
Martha from Lines From Linderhof
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  1. I've always loved the name of this pasta dish and particularly like the healthy adaptations you've made to the recipe! Looks delicious!

  2. Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. says:

    I love this recipe, and of course, their books!

  3. Sue/the view from great island says:

    How fun that you can experiment with different foods as your family changes…it's a little tiny silver lining in the cloud. I've noticed it in a big way since both girls are out of the house, I'm so free to cook whatever I want to!
    I've always loved pasta puttanesca, and between your dish and Heather's Salad Nicoise, I think I'd add 10 years to my life if I ate them every week.

  4. Taste and Tell says:

    I am trying so hard to get my little girl to enjoy a wide variety of foods, but it's hard for her little 2-year old palate!! But I will keep trying, and this sauce sounds like a great thing for both me and for her!

  5. Susan Lindquist says:

    What a huge favor you have done for the children, introducing them to so many different cuisines while they are young … our kids grew up on Kraft mac&cheese and chicken nuggets, but I tried too to broaden their culinary horizons… and this puttanesca sauce is a great way to go Italian! Great tribute to Lukins & Rosso!

  6. Kathy - Panini Happy says:

    You sure know how to photograph pasta well, Jeanette. :-)

  7. I really can't believe I'd never heard of this cookbook before…so many people have known and loved it for years. I almost made the Pasta Puttanesca, as well because I love it so much and it's such a breeze to put together…I had it bookmarked! So thank you for at least letting me have a heaping plateful (vicariously) even though I went with the salad. It looks amazing 😀

  8. Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen says:

    One of my favorite pasta dishes!

  9. This is my go to dish when I am in a rush and can't think of anything to make for lunch or dinner – the kids love it, so that makes it a no brainer.

  10. I am so starving as I read this…I want to reach through my screen and twirl a huge forkful right off the top!

  11. Wow, you are one busy mom! (4 boys is it – did I count that right?). I love working with spelt flour (gorgeous, light, silky, properties) and agree that spelt pasta is milder than wheat. Many of my clients do better on spelt than wheat without having to omit gluten. There is a bakery around the corner from us in Ottawa that only uses spelt in its breads, muffins and pizza crusts. I really like this puttanesca Jeanette – a colourful and savoury delight. Gorgeous photo too. Have a good weekend :)

  12. Wenderly – please try this, I think you will really enjoy it, super easy to make and delicious!

    Kelly – I do have 4 boys, so it is a lively, loud house! Nice to know that that your clients can tolerate spelt without omitting wheat. I'm going to have to try spelt flour in baked goods, I've heard it's good.

  13. I'm glad to hear the school year got off to a great start. This pasta looks fantastic, and it sounds like great fuel for success!

  14. wow, i am shocked to hear that your three boys will be so open to beans and veggies! great job parenting, jeanette! 😀 your pasta always looks so elegant. olives in pasta sounds delicious!

  15. Taryn (Have Kitchen, Will Feed) says:

    This looks so delicious – this might be my go to recipe for the week!

  16. My first Putanesca over a decade ago gave a lasting impression. I bet this one taste good also. I would love to prepare it for the Thanks giving.

  17. Junia – My oldest doesn't like beans (the texture bugs him), but yes, the other three do like beans. They all know veggies are part of their dinner, and joke about how I keep adding more to their plate as the years go on.

    I love that this recipe can be prepared using pantry items (I try to keep a few Kalamata olives in my fridge to make sure I can throw this together on short notice).

  18. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) says:

    Silver Palate is one of those books that has really held up over time. I like the revised (25th anniversary) edition even better than the original.

  19. Cookin' Canuck says:

    My goodness, you do have a busy schedule! This puttanesca is the perfect way to get a healthy, hearty meal into your kids in minutes.

  20. Lydia – I'll have to check out the 25th anniversary edition to see what was added – you've got my curiosity going now.

    Dara – Funny, my oldest asked if things were less hectic now that he's gone…my reply? Certainly hasn't slowed down – in fact, I think it's even more crazy now that I've lost him as a driver! Just have to get the twins to pass their driver's test (if I survive practicing with each of them!)

  21. The Silver palate recipe for this pasta dish was the first I ever tried. These cookbooks were the first in my collection.

  22. Ashley@Bakerbynature says:

    Puttanesca is my go to quick cook dinner: healthy, spicy, and delicious!

  23. France@beyondthepeel says:

    Jeanette, What a great tip to help people transition to wholegrain pastas by using robust sauces. It's not an easy transition for most people and I'm sure this sauce would do the trick quite nicely!

  24. I kid you not that puttanesca is my favorite pasta sauce ever!! This recipe looks great Jeanette. So glad you used the essential anchovies.

  25. love the ease of this recipe – even I have the ingredients in my cupboard!!

  26. My mom always hated the start of school again cause it meant she had to resume her role as chauffeur. I hope things calm down a bit and you guys settle into some kind of groove soon!

    this pasta looks so good…puttanesca is definitely a classic for a reason!

  27. Puttanesca – another dish I have yet to try, but it is right up my alley. I love all things pasta. I also love saying the name – your rendition looks lovely.

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