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Posted on Feb 25, 2016 |

Rita’s Recipe: Pasta Puttanesca

Rita’s Recipe: Pasta Puttanesca

The distinctive taste of preserved capers -- the buds of the caper bush -- flavors this meatless pasta dish. Photo by Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MC; not ownership implied.

The distinctive taste of preserved capers — the buds of the caper bush — flavors this meatless pasta dish. Photo by Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MC; not ownership implied.

About capers


Capers are mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:5. “When one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and DESIRE FAILS.”


The flower buds of the caper bush were called “Desire Shall Fail” because eating them weakened the appetite and held off hunger until the main course could be eaten. When I researched this, I found that the passage actually refers to old age, when supposedly even capers won’t help the appetite.


The caper bush is an interesting bush – it originated in the Mediterranean region and likes to grow on walls and rocky coasts. It’s still found growing between the huge stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.


I’ve never had a fresh caper, only preserved/pickled/brined. Most recipes call for preserved capers. They range in size from very tiny to larger. The smaller ones are supposed to be the best. The flavor is sort of salty and slightly pickled. You should rinse and drain them before use.


Pasta Puttanesca


A wonderful, highly flavorful dish for Lent. The anchovy paste is salty so if you want more salt, add it after you mix the pasta with the sauce.


  • 1 pound spaghetti, boiled
  • 4 cups diced tomatoes, about 2# plum tomatoes or so
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup coarsely chopped Kalamata olives
  • 2-3 tablespoons drained and rinsed small capers
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • Red pepper flakes to taste – start with 1/4 teaspoon
  • Anchovy paste to taste – start with 1 rounded teaspoon – we like about 2 teaspoons
  • Handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Freshly grated Parmesan to taste


While pasta is boiling, combine tomatoes, olives, capers and garlic.  Stir in red pepper flakes, anchovy paste and parsley.  Pour olive oil over and mix well.


Drain pasta, pour sauce over, mix gently.  Sprinkle with cheese and serve.


Rita Heikenfeld.

Rita Heikenfeld.

Rita Nader Heikenfeld writes a weekly syndicated column and blog for the Community Press, appears every Thursday on the Son Rise Morning Show, and is the author of several cookbooks. An adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati, she is Certified Culinary Professional and Certified Modern Herbalist,  the Culinary Professional for Jungle Jim’s Eastgate, and a media personality with a cable show and YouTube videos. In 2014 she was inducted into the Escoffier Hall of Fame. She lives “in the sticks” outside Batavia, Ohio with her family, where they heat with wood, raise chickens for eggs, and grow their own produce and herbs. You’ll find all her previous recipes featured on The Catholic Beat here.

Rita’s Bible Foods segment airs on the Son Rise Morning Show every Thursday morning at 7:22 am (rebroadcast Friday at 6:02 am). Tune in to hear her discuss the history behind each recipe and the scripture verses that inspired it. And of course, for cooking tips!

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