All I want for Christmas Eve

22 Dec

A silent night isn’t exactly my idea of a swell Christmas Eve.

I’d much rather be spending it with this (shall we say, colorful) crew.

COVID makes that impossible this year. Which breaks my heart hugely. And pisses me off about as much.

Christmas Eve morning I am supposed to be waking up at my brother Joe’s place in Queens, as I have every Christmas Eve morning since moving to Maine a quarter century ago. After a hearty breakfast (Joe’s awesome pancakes if I am very lucky) we would be getting into his car and driving over to Cypress Hills Cemetery, on the Brooklyn-Queens border. Inside the cemetery gate is a small wood and metal trailer where the man selling Christmas wreaths to mourners like us keeps himself warm. We always buy a wreath from this man but I do not believe he has once recognized us as the regulars that we are.

After storing the wreath in the trunk of Joe’s car it would be time to place our bets on how many minutes it will take for my brother to find his way to our parents’ gravesite. Cyress Hills is a sprawling, difficult-to-navigate cemetery and it is not uncommon to become hopelessly lost inside it. My wife Joan (did I mention that she would be with us?) is the official timer, she in the front passenger seat next to my brother, I in the rear.

Lately Joe has been winning our find-the-family-grave wager with great frequency. I suspect he may be practicing by visiting mom and dad when I am not around. Which could, depending on your view, be considered cheating.

By around noontime, after additional graveside visitations with other beloved family members nearby, we would be getting back to Joe’s neighborhood and doing last-minute Christmas shopping. By this I mean mostly last-minute gag-gift shopping for our godchildren Joanna and Alec, often at the “As Seen on T.V.” display at the CVS. Once we have all laughed our way through this ridiculous ritual it would be time for Joe and Joan’s annual tug-of-war on the subject of lunch, my wife being very much pro, my brother strongly not so.

“I’m saving myself for later,” he tells her, year after year after year after year.

“Later” is, of course, the traditional Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, which takes place always at Aunt Anna and Aunt Rita’s apartment in Queens, beginning at around four or five o’clock and lasting late into the evening.

It is a night that I look forward to all year long. And silent it is not.

Nor should it be.


Shoes make the man

10 Dec


I am not the bravest of men. But sometimes there are moments.

It was Christmas Day, getting close to dinnertime. I was around 16 at the time. I’d been visiting with some of my aunts and uncles and was now walking back to our apartment when I noticed a familiar sight: a neighborhood guy named Rudy trying to get a passerby to get down onto the icy cold sidewalk and tie his shoelaces for him.

Rudy was a cripple. That’s what people like him were called back then. He’d had polio as a boy. His spine was noticeably curved and the fingers on both of his hands bent inward and towards his wrists. Among other things this meant that the man was unable to tie his own shoes. 

That task fell to those of us around Rudy. If you were a neighborhood boy or girl, man or woman, butcher, barber, teacher, plumber, whatever, and took seriously the concept of community, then tying Rudy’s shoelaces was your job, your responsibility. No less important a responsibility than helping an elderly neighbor walk across Atlantic Avenue or keeping somebody’s child from running out in front of a city bus. 

I had gotten down on my knees and helped Rudy plenty of times. At first, when I was little, it seemed funny, even a little creepy. But as I got older I didn’t mind it so much.

Reflecting on it now, I learned an awful lot about compassion and humility by kneeling down in front of that poor man. Maybe some others did too.

Rudy was around my parents’ age. He lived with his sister Frances and brother Johnny in the brick row house where they had grown up together as children. He was as much a fixture in our tightly knit Brooklyn neighborhood as anybody. Rudy was always hanging around where you could run into him, either on the stoop outside of his house, a street corner where other men gathered, or on the sidewalks where he constantly—and very slowly and deliberately—walked alone each and every day.

“Rudy Tie My Shoes” is what people called him.

This was not to be cruel to the man, mind you. A guy who lived across the street from me had a face that was framed by almost perfect right angles. We called him “Frankie Squarehead” because, well, why would you not? His name was Frank and his dome was square. Nicknames like this were just the way of the time, that’s all. They weren’t meant to insult or to hurt anybody.

Anyhow, back to Christmas. I was a short block away from where Rudy was standing when I noticed what was actually going on. He had been walking in the light snow and happened upon a group of four guys around my age. Once I could determine who the others were I slowed my pace in order to read the situation more clearly.

It was Crazy Philip and three of his friends. Which did not bode well at all for poor Rudy. 

Philip was trouble from the day he moved into the neighborhood, around a year or so earlier. He had quickly formed his own street gang and got great pleasure out of intimidating people. I saw him beat the crap out of plenty of guys for no reason whatsoever, occasionally doing the kind of damage that required a visit to the doctor or to the ER. The two of us had come close to blows on more than a few occasions.

To be honest, I was afraid of the guy. He was pure anger and rage, without a shred of good judgment. Not so long after this day that I’m telling you about Philip got killed in a knife fight, bled out right there on our sidewalk. Few were sorry to see him go.

When I saw him and his boys circling around Rudy I knew that I had two choices: Find another way home or take my chances and hope for a Christmas miracle.

Felipe, que tal?” I yelled loudly while approaching the scene. Unlike me and everybody else within a five-block radius, Philip’s people were from Puerto Rico not Italy. “Feliz Navidad. You seen Anthony today?” Anthony had been my best friend as a young boy; he still was my friend, only we had grown apart ever since he and Philip started hanging out. They were equals in the gang they were a part of, the only two equals as far as I could determine. I had always believed that, if not for Anthony’s known history and friendship with me, and his influence over Philip, his new friend and I would have come to violence long ago.

“We’re busy here, man,” Philip said staring at Rudy in a way that I had seen and feared many times before. “Tony’s at home. You want him, you know where he lives.”

Anthony had only recently come to be called Tony, just not by me.

The snow picked up and Rudy wasn’t wearing a hat, a scarf or a pair of gloves. He was his usual slow self, not speaking, but the man appeared to somewhat grasp the delicacy of his situation. 

“What you lookin at?” one of Philip’s friends said pushing Rudy’s face with an open palm as the others laughed. 

“Hey retard, your shoe’s untied,” said another. “C’mon, let’s see you tie it.”

This was not looking good at all. The only chance I had would be to act quickly and decisively.

Felipe,” I said loudly and in a way meant to strongly draw his attention away from Rudy and toward me. “Respect. Sabe? I’m just gonna bend down now and help this man out with his shoes. I don’t want any trouble here.”

Asking Philip’s permission to do anything, let alone assist a helpless man like Rudy, was enough to make me want to hurt somebody. Badly. But it was the only possible way out of this. Philip’s boys would do whatever he told them to do. If he decided to let Rudy go on his way then Rudy would go on his way. If not then there was no telling how far they would go, how badly they would hurt the poor guy. Or me.

Philip stared me down in a way that suggested I had miscalculated my ability to diffuse the situation. But when enough seconds passed without him saying anyhing, I moved through the pack until I got to Rudy. I could see how frightened he had become but also noticed a bit of relief in his face. Mine was at least a familiar and friendly presence and Rudy knew it.

“Who he to you, man?” said one of Philip’s boys as I kneeled and brushed the snow and slush off of Rudy’s black leather shoes. “Maybe you should mind your business.”

Rudy’s left shoe trembled as I tied it, possibly from the cold but perhaps not. 

“Okay, now the right one,” I said as much to the others as to Rudy. 

Philip had yet to speak and his boys had turned quiet. I imagined getting kicked in the head and pummeled to the ground.

“There you go, good as new,” I said standing to face the man I had assisted like this since I was a child. “Merry Christmas, Rudy.”

All that was left to do now was to turn around and to face Philip. 

“We’re done here, right Felipe?” I said summoning more courage than I’d thought I had. “The man can be on his way?”

Philip’s frizzy dark hair was topped with white snow, his black and red leather gang jacket wet around the shoulders and down his chest. The guy had the blackest, scariest, most intimidating eyes I had ever seen. Being stared down by them made me feel small. 

“One day we’re gonna get it into it, Tony or no Tony,” Philip said, turning his stare first to Rudy and then to his boys. “Vamos, chicos.” 

Rudy stood motionless as Philip and his boys strutted away. After they turned the corner and were out of sight I gently grabbed Rudy’s misshapen elbow. I can’t speak for him but I myself only felt a little less scared than I had moments earlier.

“I’m gonna walk you home now, Rudy,” I said. “That all right?” 

He didn’t smile or nod or say anything at all, but he did let me keep hold of his arm for the couple-block walk to his house. Before climbing the steps of his stoop Rudy motioned for me to tie his shoelaces again. They didn’t need tying this time and so I took this to mean that the man needed a little more friendly human contact before the two of us parted ways. 

Which was okay by me.

I needed the same thing.

Ginny’s Thanksgiving pie

26 Nov

When a 98-year-old woman texts you her mother’s recipe for a cherished holiday pie from her childhood — days before Thanksgiving, it is worth noting — well, my mamma didn’t raise no dummy.

Also worth mentioning is the woman’s place in my life. She is my wife’s mother. Her name is Virginia. But you can call her Ginny.

Ginny is a New Englander to the core. The place where she lives today, just outside of Boston, is but a few miles from where she was born and raised.

New Englanders and New Yorkers, particularly Italian-American New Yorkers like myself, are not always, shall we say, simpatico in matters of food cravings. I learned this long ago, and so was not surprised that Ginny’s pie recipe featured a main ingredient unlike any that my kind would expect on a holiday dessert tray.

It’s a blue hubbard squash.

And here’s what it looks like inside.

Lucky for Ginny that her son-in-law doesn’t live in Brooklyn anymore; he lives in Maine, where the nearby farms are positively lousy with these things!

Despite a strong urge to fiddle with the recipe (I am not a recipe follower by nature) I followed this one to the letter. I cooked some of the filling separately to see what I’d gotten myself into and it tasted an awful lot like a pumpkin pie, both to me and to Ginny’s daughter.

Later on today we’ll be driving the pie down to Ginny’s.

She is not a woman without strong opinions and so odds are good that a Comment might be forthcoming.

Pray for me.

And Happy Thanksgiving.

Blue Hubbard Squash Pie

One pie crust. (I used Beth Queen of Bakers’ recipe.)

1 1/2 cups blue hubbard squash, roasted and mashed

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon cloves

2 eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups evaporated milk

1 tablespoon melted butter

Mix together the dry ingredients, then add in the squash and mix thoroughly. Add the beaten eggs, milk, and butter and mix.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 45 minutes or so.

Pasta with cauliflower & toasted breadcrumbs

19 Nov

Man does not live by red sauce alone.

At least that’s what everybody keeps telling me. And telling me. And telling me.

Fine. Be that way.

Toast yourself around half a cup of breadcrumbs in a pan, then set aside. Oh, and blanch a head of cauliflower (you know, the white kind of main ingredient) while you’re at it; four or five minutes oughta do it.

Saute some garlic, crushed hot pepper and, yes, anchovies, in olive oil until the garlic has softened.

Toss in the cauliflower, some chopped parsley and the zest of a lemon.

Incorporate like so.

You got pasta in the house, right? I guess I should have mentioned that a pound of your favorite should have been boiling in well-salted water by now. I went with orecchiette. Toss the pasta in with the cauliflower along with a good ladle’s worth or more of the pasta water and turn up the heat until most of the water has evaporated.

Then add the toasted breadcrumbs and some grated cheese and incorporate.

Totally a No Red Zone kinda deal.

Happy now?

Life in the left lane

24 Oct

Note: I’ll be honest. These past months have taken a toll on my interest in cooking and writing. Hopefully it’s a temporary setback and we’ll return to our usual topics shortly. 

I begin most every morning with a briskish five- or six-mile walk. There are few sidewalks on my route and so you will mostly find me farthest to my left, approaching oncoming vehicles.

This may be the proper place for a person on foot to travel, but it is not always a safe one. Too many motorists drive distractedly. A surprising number of others resent sharing the road with pedestrians—and aren’t afraid to show it. 

I have been run off the road plenty, forced to leap into the brush or up onto a snowbank, even pinned against a solid stone wall. On a couple of occasions I have been deliberately aimed at. That’s right, aimed at. By an actual human, operating a few thousand-pound vehicle that could end me.

Thing is, the left side of the universe has always been a comfortable place for me. As a boy and then a young man I spent all my summers in left field on the baseball diamond and third base on the softball field. I’ve spent decades probing the farthest left frequencies of the FM radio dial. And My Sainted Mother, a righty, used her left hand exclusively to make her meatballs.

I used to think that a lifelong familiarity with things left kept me on my toes and therefore safe. Not anymore. Leaning even slightly leftward of farthest right puts you square on the third rail of life in 2020 America. 

None of us is safe.

A couple of months ago I made the mistake of innocently pointing out, in a social media setting, that I found the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to be a decent sort of fellow. And that is all that I pointed out about him. 

“Fuck your feelings,” came a particularly brutal response. And from a person that I actually know a little bit. Like, in the flesh.

It’s dismaying that such an innocuous comment about a lifelong and serious-minded public servant could unleash such fury. The candidate that I referred to isn’t even a lefty, by the way; he’s a centrist. A lot of moderate Republicans are in his corner. A lot of left-leaning Democrats are not.

Besides, all I said was that he seemed like an okay guy.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time that a “friend” or a “follower” has lashed out with such vitriol over, well, not so much. 

Once I was called a “scumbag liberal asshole” for “spreading FAKE NEWS to make our GREATEST PRESIDENT EVER look bad.” This for having the gaul to implore my fellow citizens, in the very early days of the coronavirus pandemic, to “please be vigilant and stay safe out there, people.” 

Another time it was suggested that I move to “some sociallist (sic) shithole country” where people of my ilk “belong.” Though, this person added with apparent enthusiasm, “HELL would be better because I wish all you DEMONCRATS would  just DIE OF CANCER already.”

So there. 

(For the record, I am not now nor have I been a member of the “DEMONCRAT” party, nor the Democrat one, but I take my “friend’s” point.)

It’s the viciousness that’s so disheartening, the blind rage, the complete absence of kindness and respect. We’re talking about a national virus here, a virus that scares me a lot more than COVID-19.

In eleven days we will have an election. The polls indicate that a change in leadership may be coming.

I’m good with that. Very good, in fact.

But then what? 

My guess is that the lane that I’m traveling on becomes more, not less, perilous. 

Never in my life have I wanted more to be wrong.

Tom really was terrific

3 Sep

Tonight we received word that New York Mets legend Tom Seaver died at the age of 75. As a remembrance I’m reprinting the following article, one that I’d written for another website before Seaver’s passing.

“They were both Mets fans, and the hopelessness of that passion created a bond between them.” —Paul Auster

On October 17th, 1986, sometime in the early afternoon Rome time, I was queued up at the Alitalia check-in at Fiumicino Airport. Beside me was my newish wife Joan, in front of me a stocky man wearing a bright blue hoodie and jittering in a highly agitated state.

“Let’s hang back a couple steps,” I whispered into my wife’s ear. “Give that guy a little space.”

I do not recall the exact circumstances of the airport’s delays that day, only that they were many. This seemed a minor inconvenience to my wife and me, as neither of us was in a hurry to leave Italy and fly back home to New York. 

Not so for our hoodied friend. Anxious does not begin to describe the man’s position on catching the next flight to JFK.

“C’mon man, let’s get going,” he pleaded to no one in particular. “If I don’t get to see my Mets in the World Series tomorrow I’m gonna kill somebody.”

This is the moment that my opinion of our animated friend changed entirely.

“Excuse me,” I said, moving closer. “Did you just say the Mets are in the Series?”

As soon as he turned I had my answer. On the front of his blue hoodie was the very distinct and very orange Mets logo.

“Are you kidding me?” cried Hoodie. “Them and Boston, yeah. I’m from Jersey. Paterson. You?”

Never have I wanted so desperately to lie about my residence, which was far closer to the Mets’ home field than Hoodie’s. Worse, the Mets were my father’s, my brothers’ and therefore my team. Forever. And always. Their 1969 World Series championship—a bona fide Act of God “miracle”—ranks among the most treasured memories of all my years.

Now I would have to explain to a total stranger how, for the recent few years, baseball had occupied not a single square yard in the fabric of my life. Nearly six months into an NL championship season and I was utterly clueless about my team’s accomplishments!

“Brooklyn,” I answered sheepishly—and softly enough so that nobody but I could hear.

“Sorry, say again,” said Hoodie, moving closer. “Didn’t catch that.”

Inches now separated the man and me. I was trapped. My baseball demons had traveled across an ocean in order to torment me. Their chosen human vessel? An overweight, balding, hoodied New York Mets fan from Paterson, New Jersey.

What fresh hell is this?

“Brooklyn,” I repeated loudly and properly this time. “Born and raised.”

Hoodie’s eyes opened wider than a 747 but before he could scold me I spoke up.

“I know, I know. Just that it’s been a while since I followed the game. Once they dealt Seaver in ’77…”

This evoked an appropriate response, if you are familiar with New York Mets baseball, that is. 

“Darkest day ever!” Hoodie yelled, startling an elderly Italian couple ahead of him in line. “Seaver was God, the best. They should’ve executed the scumbag that traded him. Firing squad. Gas chamber. No, guillotine. Bring me the head of M. Donald Grant!” 

It was Grant, the team’s then chairman, who had sent George Thomas Seaver packing back in 1977, just 10 years into a Hall of Fame career that lasted twice that long. Seaver was, and is, the greatest pitcher in Mets history; he isn’t still called The Franchise for nothing. Grant’s shocking decision to trade him sent shockwaves not just through New York’s five boroughs and the tri-state region, but through all of Major League Baseball. It remains the worst move ever made by a team that to this day is best known for its ability to make all conceivable kinds of worst moves ever. 

Only Mets fans of a certain age, like Hoodie and me, have suffered through ALL of the team’s many indignities. We are brothers in this way. Lifelong, I suspect. 

Hoodie’s eyes went down to my shoes and then slowly worked their way up my body until we were again eye to eye.

“Still, no excuse for not even knowing they made it to the Series. Seriously, man, Seriously.”

My new friend was right, of course. I had been wrong on so many levels and told him so. More than a few times, as it happens, what with the hours it took for our flight to make it out of Rome. Before we said goodbye, somewhere around Customs at JFK, Hoodie grabbed me by the shoulders with both of his impressive hands.

“The past is the past, so get over it,” he told me. “Come home, brother. Just come home.”

I am not in the practice of taking advice from strangers, certainly not agitated ones who wear logoed MLB merch when traveling abroad, but in this case I decided to make an exception. Between October 18th and 27th, 1986, the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox played a full best-of-seven series. I watched nearly every inning of every game, and when the last out was recorded—a strikeout in the top of the ninth at Shea Stadium—my Mets had won their second (and last, to this date) World Series. 

As it happens Tom Seaver wore a Red Sox uniform that year, his last as a professional baseball player. A knee injury prevented the 42-year-old from pitching against the team that he had led to the 1969 World Series that I had watched with my father and my brothers. 

I am forever grateful that Seaver did not end his career by taking the mound that October.

I could not—and would not—have rooted against him.

Even Hoodie would have to back me up on this.

Into the woods

20 Aug


I don’t go into the woods much anymore. Not since we lost Otis seven years ago.

It’s too quiet out there. Memories of the two of us trekking through the trails and brush together, day after day after day after day, for a dozen years, lurk behind every oak and maple, poplar and hemlock, like it was Tuesday.

I am not as strong as it sometimes appears.

A few days ago I found myself in the woods just to the north of our house. A project that I was working on required an amount of natural stone; collecting them is easy because they are more plentiful around here than the trees.

After a couple of hours of scavenging I’d collected enough stones to complete my project and started back to the house with the last of them. The sun was shining brightly and for an instant I spied a brief but colorful reflection at the base of a giant oak.

It never occurred to me that the shining purple and blue light might be my old friend.

Rambunctious may begin to describe Otis’s spirit but that’s all it does. Don’t worry, I’m not a man who forces others to suffer through “the cute.” Let’s just say that I loved my constant companion deeply and leave it at that, shall we.

As I bent down to inspect the shiny objects the few stones that I was carrying slid out of my hands and onto the ground. I found myself grabbing the oak and trying to catch my breath.

Otis never cared much for collars and leashes. Over his all too brief time with us we replaced several of both. The purple and blue tags shining in the sunlight that day were the very first ones that he wore, very reluctantly, as a pup.

After a good cry I scooped up the tags and left the last few stones behind. My wife Joan was having a pretty bad day and so I decided to wait a bit before showing them to her. When Otis died, you see, a very important part of her died too.

Last evening, after finishing the stonework, an outdoor fire pit that Joan had been wanting me to build for some time, I brought out Otis’s tags. Turns out she had already discovered them hidden behind the garden tools that I thought she never paid any attention to.

And, like me, couldn’t quite find the right moment to mention it.

My go-to sauteed escarole

17 Aug


I had a nice crop of escarole in the garden this year. And no matter how hard I try to get creative with using it I always come back to this old favorite.


In a large pan saute four or five garlic cloves, as many anchovy fillets, some hot pepper and a handful of pine nuts in olive oil, until the garlic has softened.


This is escarole that was first chopped and blanched for around five minutes, then drained very well. As I mentioned, it’s from my garden, but I’d say it’s the equivalent of two bunches that you’d find in the supermarket. Add the blanched escarole and a little stock (I used chicken stock) and cook until the escarole is completely tender.


It’s my favorite vegetable side dish.

Nothing even comes close.

Pickled garlic scapes

11 Jul


It’s getting a little late in the season to be finding garlic scapes and so I’ll be quick and simply pass along a recipe that I’ve been experimenting with the past week or so.

If you enjoy a strong taste of vinegar then follow the instructions to the letter and you won’t be disappointed.

However, if you are like me and prefer a less pronounced vinegar taste, then I suggest using a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water (as suggested in the notes of the original recipe).

I also added some hot pepper to half the jars that I prepared. My instinct would be to add the pepper to all of the jars, but a certain housemate of mine often frowns upon this preference and with age I have learned to compromise.

Good luck.

ZOLLE SOTT’OLIO (Pickled Garlic Scapes)

Recipe by Domenica Marchetti

Makes 2 pints

1 pound garlic scapes
2 cups white wine vinegar (see NOTES)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil

Have on hand 4 sterilized half-pint jars (or 2 pint-size jars) and their lids (see NOTES).

Cut the scapes into 1 1/2- to 2-inch lengths, removing any tought parts at the bottom and the thinnest part above the small bulbous tip.

In a saucepan large enough to hold all the scapes, bring the vinegar to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the salt and let it dissolve. Add the scapes to the pot and cover. Return the vinegar to a boil and boil, stirring once or twice, until the scapes have lost their bright green color and are just tender, 4 to 5 minutes.

Drain the scapes in a colander set in the sink. Spread on a clean kitchen towel and let dry for 1 hour. Shuffle them around once or twice during this time to make sure they dry on all sides.

Pack the scapes into the jars, leaving 1 inch head space. Pour enough olive oil into the jars to cover the scapes completely. Use a bubble remover or a clean chopstick to dislodge any air bubbles and press down on the scapes to submerge them.

Screw the lids on tightly and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Let the scapes cure in the refrigerator for 1 week before using, then store them in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. To serve, remove from the jar only as much as you plan to use and let it come to room temperature. Top off the jar with more oil as necessary to keep the remaining scapes submerged.

These pickles have a pronounced vinegar flavor. If you want to soften the flavor, substitute up to 1 cup water for up to 1 cup of the vinegar ~ no more, as you do not want to dilute the preserving ability of the vinegar. You can also add a little sugar to the brine, if you like.

These pickles do not call for sealing in a water bath; they are stored in the refrigerator. However, to minimize the growth of mold or other micro-organisms, I prefer to sterilize the jars and lids. To sterilize jars, wash them with soapy water, rinse, and then boil in a water bath for 10 minutes; or wash in soapy water, rinse, and heat in a 285 F oven for 30 minutes. Wash the lids in hot soapy water, rinse, submerge in simmering water for a few minutes.

Puttanesca sauce

12 May


First things first.

No, it is not a fact that puttanesca sauce was invented by the puttana who earned their livelihoods in Italy’s brothels around World War II. It’s possible, I suppose. But, then, what isn’t?

Except for its geographic lineage, that being Italy, the southern part most probably, nobody really knows the true origin of the sauce. Believe me, I’ve looked and read and asked around. There are theories, several of them, but that’s all they are.

Titillating as it may be the most widely accepted brothel theory is, at best, weak.

This marks the (merciful) end of our impossible history lesson of the puttanesca.

Besides, do you really care who first threw together the most intensely flavored quick sauce known to humankind?

I’m content being in the dark and just enjoying the sauce. Wherever it came from.


A puttanesca begins, as so many good things do, with plenty of olive oil, garlic, anchovy and some hot pepper. Saute for a couple minutes until the garlic has softened.


Add a 28- to 35-oz. can of tomatoes, 3/4 cups of pitted and halved olives (Gaeta olives are traditional but Kalamatas are easier for me to source and so that’s what is used here), two or three tablespoons of rinsed capers, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for as little as 20 minutes, or up to half an hour, and you are pretty much all done.


Though tossing in a handful of chopped parsley before serving would not be such a terrible idea.


It took way less time to cook, eat and clean up after this puttanesca than it did trying to figure out whose bright idea the whole thing was in the first place.

Puttanesca Sauce

4 tablespoons or so of olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 dried hot pepper, crushed
4 anchovy fillets

2 to 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
3/4 cup pitted Gaeta or Kalamata olives, halved
1 28-oz. to 35-oz. can of good-quality tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan saute the olive oil, garlic, hot pepper and anchovies for around two  minutes.
Add the tomatoes, olives, capers, salt and pepper, stir and allow to simmer at medium heat for 20-30 minutes.