Why Some People Were Offended By This Nigella Lawson Pasta Name

A truly global menu is full of dish names that range from the whimsical — think the British leftover veg dish known as "bubble and squeak" or the eyebrow-raising dessert "spotted dick" – to the descriptive, such as the 30-ingredient Buddha Jumps Over the Wall (via Taste Atlas). So no one batted an eye when British chef Nigella Lawson first offered up her take on the quick and easy "alla puttanesca" pasta sauce and called it "slut sauce." While the name might seem a bit vulgar to come out of someone as genteel as Nigella Lawson, it wouldn't be wrong to call it that, since the sauce made with olives, capers, garlic, chili peppers, and tomatoes — or "puttanesca" — has often been referred to as harlot-style spaghetti or "whore's pasta," per Nigella.

But the shock came when Lawson decided to swap out the English name for her classic dish, which has now been rechristened "Slattern's Spaghetti" on her site. The name change, she says, came about because, as she puts it, "this is the sort of dish cooked by slatterns who don't go to market to get their ingredients fresh, but are happy to use stuff out of cans and jars."

A question of translation

Nigella Lawson's decision to change her translation didn't sit too well with one Italian newspaper, the conservative Corriere della Sera, which questioned the reason the British chef referred to this classic pasta dish differently. According to a translated version of the article, writer Marco Vassallo hinted that Nigella Lawson's motivation for changing her dish's name from "slut" to "slattern," was being made in the interest of political correctness.

In Lawson's defense, the wordplay involving pasta alla puttanesca doesn't just come about in English; it happens in Italian, too. Italy Magazine points out that the dish was once "alla marinara," but it became known as "alla puttanesca" because of its origins, as some claim the dish first appeared in the red light district of the Spanish Quarters. Another explanation, according to Inside the rustic kitchen, is that the name is actually derived from the order "facci una puttanata qualsiasi" or to "make any kind of garbage" — which is what a group of customers told one restaurant when they were informed that there were few ingredients in the kitchen to rustle up a pasta sauce with.

Whether it's "slut's spaghetti" or "slattern's spaghetti," what matters to those of us that love the sweet simplicity of this classic combo is that it tastes good. And if we want to avoid a word battle by referring to the sauce by its Italian name, "alla puttanesca," we're good with that, too.