“There was this whole debate about what it means to be a black woman and no one thought to ask a black woman!”

-Ijeoma Oluo on her most viral essay on Rachel Dolezal

Pasta Puttanesca


Writer and author Ijeoma Oluo (So You Want To Talk About Race) makes pasta puttanesca and shares how she and her family got creative with food while growing up poor. We go deep on her most viral essay, how to teach kids resistance, and, yup, how to talk about race.



  • Salt

    4 tablespoons olive oil

    1 medium red onion, thinly sliced

    6 anchovy fillets, chopped

    2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

    Crushed red pepper to taste

    One 15-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, chopped, and juice reserved separately

    2 tablespoons capers, well-soaked if salt-packed, roughly chopped

    ¼ cup pitted and roughly chopped nicoise or other black olives

    2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

    1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or marjoram (if you can)

    1 pound penne or spaghetti



  • A big pot to boil water in

  • Strainer

  • Knife


Individually, capers, olives, and anchovies each pack a concentration of flavor; it’s the combining of the three that gives puttanesca its salty, spicy, and ribald character. Blasphemous, maybe (an Italian rule holds that a dish may include onions or garlic, but not both), but I make puttanesca with well-cooked onions: their mild sweetness plays nice with team caper-olive-anchovy.  

Put a big pot of cold water on to boil. Add salt.

Heat a large skillet on high heat and add the olive oil, then the onion and a light sprinkle of salt. Stir the onion until it gets going, then turn to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and well browned, about 20 minutes. They should taste very savory-sweet. Add the anchovies and cook a minute or two, so that they melt into the onions, then add the garlic and crushed red pepper, stirring and smelling the good, not burning, garlic. Add the tomatoes, capers, and olives. Raise the heat and bring the sauce to a simmer while you boil the pasta. As the skillet gets to looking (and sounding) dry and sizzly, add doses of the reserved tomato juice. When the pasta is done, drain it and toss it in the pan with the sauce, tasting and making the proper adjustments. Chopped parsley and oregano are very good here.