Today I bring you a briny, creamy hybrid of a dish, that I’m almost shocked worked out so well. Say hello to the Puttanesca Potato Salad. What you’re looking at here is tender baby potatoes dressed with a sauce of blistered cherry tomatoes accented with anchovy and dry vermouth and studded with black olives and capers. The salad is finished with a dollop of mayo and fresh parsley and dill. The result is a pitch-perfect mash-up of a rudely named pasta dish and a much beloved and indulgent BBQ side. This is such a good one, so let’s dive right in.
Now, before we do anything, let’s take a moment to talk about puttanesca. This pasta is one of those of dishes with a cutesy origin story. A chef is caught unawares by guests, short on ingredients, and even shorter on time, he improvises and *insert dish here* is born. Chop suey has a similar story, as does the Caesar salad. The story goes that sugo alla puttanesca was invented in the 1950s by Sandro Petti, the co-owner of an Ischian restaurant. He was closing up for the night when he saw a group of guests sit down at one of his tables. He was low on ingredients so he made do with what he had and spaghetti alla puttanesca was born.
Is this story true? It’s hard to say. But in my experience, food origin stories this simple rarely are. Some historians believe the use of the word “puttana”, which means prostitute or whore, indicates that the dish was being eaten in bordellos long before Petti served his version in the 1950s. Others assert that the word “puttana”, which can also mean “sh*t” is indicative of the improvised nature of the dish. Just tossing a bunch of “sh*t” in a pan, sort of approach, which would mean that pasta alla puttanesca is not necessarily a dish devised by or served to ladies of the evening.
Regardless of its true origins, spaghetti alla puttanesca is one of my favorite dishes. The sauce is basically a simple marinara with chili flakes, anchovies, olives, capers, and fresh oregano. I occasionally add tuna to my puttanesca for a little extra protein. This dish, like classic creamy potato salad, does not require improvement. If you’re unacquainted with this fabulous dish, I suggest you start there. It’s so so good. And the sauce detailed below served over a tangle of pasta will start you off on the right foot. I don’t usually use fresh tomatoes in my puttanesca sauce. I generally go with a tin of plum tomatoes and it’s perfectly delicious. But for my Puttanesca Potato Salad, I went with fresh cherry tomatoes because ’tis the season after all.
Growing up, potato salad with a summer standby. My grandmother’s potato salad in particular was legendary. And it’s precisely the potato salad you’re thinking of. Potatoes, celery, hard-boiled eggs, and potentially too much mayo – that was the salad. I loved it, no notes, no complaints. Particularly when it’s cozying up to lobster with strawberry shortcake for dessert. To this day, I can’t let a summer end without a sizeable scoop of potato salad. And given where my nostalgia lies, it must be creamy. Sure, I’ve had perfectly delicious vinaigrette-dressed potato salads in the past and I’ve really enjoyed them. But when I get a potato salad craving, I want mayo and I want dill.
In today’s Puttanesca Potato Salad will find both mayo and dill. And the addition of mayo plays off of the puttanesca sauce surprisingly well. But if you aren’t a creamy potato salad fangirl, like I am, you don’t have to add it. You can make your puttanesca sauce, boil your potatoes, introduce the two, and call it done. You can leave the dill off as well if that speaks to you. But as a shameless lover of creamy potato salad and mayo in general, I think you should add it. Creamy potato salad is so good and summer is so short, so add the mayo.
As with most salads, there’s plenty of room for improvisation here. You could add more protein in form of chickpeas or bacon. Or you could lean into the brininess of the olives and capers and add calamari, shrimp, or a tin of tuna. You could also add feta or pecorino or really whatever cheese you fancy. The world is your oyster and currently everything is pretty much in season, at least in my corner of the world. So good hog wild and make the Puttanesca Potato Salad you want to see in the world.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Puttanesca Potato Salad. Plus, a few things you didn’t need to know about sugo alla puttanesca. This salad brings something a little different to the picnic table while still having reverence for the two classic dishes that inspired it. It plays nicely with just about anything you might have on the grill and you can make it in advance. In fact, it just gets better the longer it sits.
Puttanesca Potato Salad with Olives and Capers
- 1 Large skillet
- 1 Large pot
- 680g (1.5 lbs) baby potatoes ** halved
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 anchovy fillets finely chopped
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- ¼ cup dry vermouth
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup kalamata olives pitted
- 2 tbsp capers drained
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano finely chopped
- ⅓ cup mayo
- 1 tbsp whole-grain Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp fresh dill finely chopped
- Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with cold water. Place the pot over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Liberally salt the water and boil the potatoes for 15 minutes or until fork tender. Drain the potatoes and set them aside to cool for 30 minutes.680g (1.5 lbs) baby potatoes **
- While the potatoes are cooking, pour the olive oil into a large skillet and place it over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering add the onion and a generous pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low and sweat the onions until translucent.2 tbsp olive oil, 1 yellow onion
- Stir in the garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, anchovies, and tomato paste. Sauté until the garlic is fragrant and anchovies melt into the onions. Deglaze the pan with the vermouth.3 cloves garlic, 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, 3 anchovy fillets, 1 tbsp tomato paste, ¼ cup dry vermouth
- Add the tomatoes and another generous pinch of salt. Sauté the tomatoes over medium heat until the skins begin to split. Crush the tomatoes with the back of the spoon and continue to cook until the sauce becomes jammy. About 10 minutes.1 pint cherry tomatoes
- Stir in the olives and capers and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Take the sauce off of the heat and stir in the parsley and oregano. Set the sauce aside to cool for 30 minutes.1 cup kalamata olives, 2 tbsp capers, 2 tbsp fresh parsley, 1 tbsp fresh oregano
- Place the potatoes in a large bowl and add the tomato sauce, mayo, mustard, and dill. Toss to coat and transfer to a platter. Either serve immediately or chill until ready to serve. ***⅓ cup mayo, 1 tbsp whole-grain Dijon mustard, 2 tbsp fresh dill