Chop an onion. Crush and mince a few cloves of garlic, 2-10, depending on how much you like garlic. Get a big pot, a stew pot or dutch oven or some such. Heat some olive oil or butter, about 2-3 Tbsp of whatever you pick. When it’s hot, add the onion and garlic. Turn the heat down to medium or medium-high, so the garlic doesn’t burn. Give it a brisk stir.
Add some black pepper, 1/2 tsp or 1 tsp, depending on how spicy you want it. Add some red pepper flakes if you have them, a pinch to a couple of shakes, depending on how spicy you want it. Or you can skip the red pepper flakes. Stir that in to the oil and garlic and onions. Make sure the garlic isn’t burning. If it’s turning brown, turn down the heat.
Chop up some olives. Maybe a half cup of olives? Maybe a cup? Depends on how much you like olives. Make sure they are pitted. If you are planning on pitting the olives yourself, do this before everything is on the heat. Add the olives to the pot, stir them in.
Add about 1 Tbsp of capers. Capers are pine buds, salted and preserved. You can get them in a jar dry with salt, or in oil. Normally I would say don’t worry about exotic ingredients that not everyone has in their home, and skip the capers if you don’t have any. But capers are sort of half the point of puttanesca sauce. So maybe you could get some.
If you don’t have capers? Well, we can actually work around that. Add more red pepper flakes, add more olives, add about 1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt, or 1/4 tsp iodized table salt. And add just about a splash of vinegar. Whatever vinegar you have. Just a small splash.
Give everything a stir. Cook until the onions are translucent. If the garlic is burning, turn the heat down and keep cooking the stuff until the onions are translucent.
When the onions are done, add your tomatoes. You have LOTS of options, here, for tomatoes. You could add:
2 large cans of peeled tomatoes. They could be diced, or crushed, or whole. If you choose whole tomatoes, you will want to cut them ahead of time, or plan on mashing them later.
3 smaller cans of tomatoes, see note above.
4-8 whole tomatoes. Most every recipe will tell you to peel the tomatoes, which strikes me as a HUGE pain. If you want the tomatoes peeled, I recommend canned tomatoes. And after you peel them, you probably want to chop them.
6-12 Roma or plum tomatoes, see the note about peeling.
3-5 cups of cherry tomatoes. This is what I had, so this is what I used. I did not bother peeling them.
Add your tomatoes, whatever they are. Mix with the stuff in the pot. Turn the heat up to at least medium, maybe a bit more. Let it cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The tomatoes will start to break down. I helped this along by taking a potato masher and crushing the tomatoes in the pot as they cooked. If you start with diced or crushed canned tomatoes, this is already taken care of for you.
After about fifteen minutes, the sauce will be a rich mix of tomato, oil or butter, and aromatics. The capers (or the vinegar splash) blend with the acid of the tomatoes. The olives and capers add salt. The black pepper and red pepper flakes give it a kick.
Recipes at this point always say ‘serve immediately over fresh pasta’ or something. I put the whole pot of sauce into a container in the fridge, so I can have it over the coming week. And, in fact, I heated it up with a fake vegetarian sausage for dinner last night. It was really nummy.