parmesan cheese, extra parsley, and black pepperfor serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil (2 tablespoons) in a large deep skillet or pot over medium heat.
Add anchovies (2 oz.), garlic (5 cloves), and red pepper flakes (1/2 teaspoon). Keep an eye on the heat and bring it down to medium-low or low if needed; the garlic should cook and soften but not burn. Stir frequently to dissolve anchovies (about 5 minutes).
Add the canned diced tomatoes (28 oz.), the chopped olives (1/2 cup), the capers (1/4 cup), and the parsley, if using (2 tablespoons).
Let the sauce simmer, covered for 10-15 minutes. Add the spaghetti (or other pasta, 16 oz.) to the now boiling salted water. Cook according to directions on package until just before al dente.
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer pasta directly to the sauce. Transfer about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water to the sauce as well. Stir to coat, and continue heating on low heat until pasta is fully al dente and the sauce has thickened and sticks to the pasta well (about 3-5 more minutes). If it seems dry at all, you can add a little more pasta cooking water about 1/4 cup at a time until it's the right consistency.
Serve, sprinkled with parmesan cheese, extra parsley, and black pepper if desired.
Freeze the sauce: Freeze in an airtight container or jar for up to 6 months. I like to reserve half of the cooked sauce and use only 8 oz. of pasta to cut the recipe in half and enjoy the sauce at another time.
How to prep and drain the anchovies: the anchovies come packed in a tin with olive oil. I just use a small fork to lift the anchovies out and transfer to a cutting board, then give them a rough chop. There's no bones or anything you need to worry about- just chop away!
More on transferring the pasta to the sauce: I don't recommend draining pasta in a colander with pasta recipes like this because the water that clings to the pasta is key for thickening the sauce and making it stick to the pasta. That's why it's recommended to transfer directly from the pot to the sauce, as well as finish cooking completely in there with some extra pasta water. This is KEY for getting the best homemade Italian pasta recipes!
For a vegan/vegetarian version, you can use crumbled up seaweed (nori) sheets to get a similar, plant-based taste to the anchovies. Here's a recipe for vegan puttanesca that uses nori and tamari (or soy sauce) to boost the umami flavor without the fish.
To make this a one-pot pasta, make the sauce in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add 4 cups of water or chicken broth to the sauce and bring to a boil. Add the 16 oz. dry pasta (break spaghetti, fettuccini, or other long shapes in half) and stir to fully submerge and separate out the noodles. Cover and simmer on low for about 15 minutes, or until pasta is fully cooked.