Rumor has it that pasta puttanesca–literally "whore's pasta"–was a quick and easy dinner of choice among Napolitan working ladies. Italian food historian and translator Jeremy Parzen suggests that the dish's salatious history is unlikely, instead pointing to the fact that "the noun puttana and the adjective puttanesco are derived from the Italian putto, 'boy.' By the sixteenth-century (long before tomatoes and dried pasta were popular in Italian cuisine), the term puttanesco was already used in Italian to denote something belonging to a 'lesser station in life,'"...the qualifier alla puttanesca refers to the fact that it is not a rich dish...It's a dressing for pasta made savory by combining "humble" ingredients."
Whatever its history, this pungent, salty dish is a quick and easy weeknight dinner for any time of year. Big, salt-packed capers, whole anchovies, and plenty of coarsely chopped olives balance the sweetness of canned tomatoes.