The origins of this sauce are obscured in legend and lore. In Italian, salsa puttanesca literally means "harlot's sauce" and was thought to be a favorite meal of prostitutes because it was nourishing--and quick to make. Another source implies that it was a favorite sauce of married ladies who were having an affair; they would come home late and make this rich sauce which smelled as though it had been cooking all day. It can be served over your favorite pasta; or, spread it on Italian bread, top with parmesan cheese, and broil it for a hearty sandwich.
Contrary to popular belief, in India, curry powders have become an integral part of middle class family life. This quick curry powder, called bafat, is from the southwestern region of India. It can be used for a meat, fish, or vegetable dishes. Traditionally, the spices are sun-dried for three days and then roasted.
The chiles that we traditionally use for this basic sauce are the ones we pull off our ristras or strings of chiles. Ristras are not just used for decoration here, we eat these chiles throughout the year in a variety of dishes. This sauce can be used in a number of ways, as a topping for enchiladas and tacos, as a basis for stew, or anything that calls for a red sauce.
This basic sauce can be used in a variety of Southwestern dishes that call for a red sauce, as well as in place of ketchup when making salad dressings and other dishes. Other large dried chiles such as guajillo, pasilla, or ancho chiles can be added or substituted. This sauce will keep up to one week in the refrigerator, or you can freeze it.
This is a basic recipe that can be used interchangeably with any of the mild red chile powders. (If this sauce were made from some of the hotter powders such as piquin, it would be too hot to eat!) Adjust the amount of powder to change the pungency of the sauce.
The pomegranate component in this dish is provided by another popular product: Pom brand bottled pomegranate juice. This can be made with chicken breasts instead, but be sure to roast them until cooked through. Recipe courtesy of Selma Brown Morrow of Bon Appétit.
According to Paul Sheehan Jr., owner of Coast Kitchen & Cannery Foods, "After considerable time spent on trial and error, and many additional pounds added, we finally settled on Recipe #17. It's actually one of the simplest recipes we came up with but is one of the best tasting." I've added a sauce, but the dish is also good served without it.