Grace Hwang Lynch

Little Bit of This, Little Bit of That

Grace Hwang Lynch

Grace Hwang Lynch
Silicon Valley, California,
December 31
I'm a former television news reporter. Currently a communications consultant, freelance writer, and mother of two. I write about raising a multicultural family at HapaMama, and I'm also the News & Politics Editor at BlogHer. My work has been published in several magazines and newspapers, as well as in the anthologies "Lavaderia: A Mixed Load of Women, Wash and Word" and "Mamas and Papas:On the Sublime and Heartbreaking Art of Parenting" by City Works Press. Follow me on Twitter: @HapaMamaGrace


Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 2, 2011 6:24PM

Sierra Ski Town Spaghetti Puttanesca

Rate: 22 Flag

If you need advice on how to survive a snowstorm on the contents of your cupboards, ask someone who lives in the Sierras — namely, the Eastern Sierra ski town of Mammoth Lakes, California. I know because I lived there for two El Nino winters which dropped record-breaking warm, wet storms on the West Coast. A ski town is at the mercy of Mother Nature. No snow, no tourists, no business. Luckily, Mammoth Mountain's geography ensures no shortage of precipitation.  It was not uncommon for a foot to fall overnight. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. A serious weather system could drop four to five feet of snow in a day, ten feet in a weekend. Not even the most heavy-duty plows could clear the roads. Not to mention the ski lifts that were raised to their highest positions and still buried.

A major snowstorm could also shut down Highway 395, the only route in or out of the town — also the only route for the delivery trucks carrying food from a Southern California warehouse to the only grocery store in Mammoth. On the evening before a big storm, the supermarket shelves were bare. I don't mean "Oh no, they're out of canned pumpkin!" I mean looted — as if Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Rodney King riots and the apocalypse were all rolled into one.

Luckily, the scarcity of grocery stores was balanced by an overabundance of restaurants. I happened to wait tables at one of them, a new Italian eatery owned by a well-known jazz musician. But sometimes, a large crowd coincided with a large snowfall, stranding lots of (hungry) people and depleting the restaurant's cold storage.

"Carpaccio? Sorry we're out of that."

"Veal? We ran out of that, too."

On a particularly busy night, the manager sent someone to the aforementioned grocery store to buy supplies, only to come back with about half of what was needed. A customer asked me for Parmesan cheese, and when I went to retrieve it from the kitchen, a frazzled cook thrust a ramekin of mozzarella in my hands.

Shouting over the kitchen din, I clarified, "Parmesan cheese!" The cook just shrugged.

There was one dish the restaurant never ran out of: Pasta Puttanesca. With a sauce made from tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, capers, and olives, the recipe was rumored to have originated from Italian ladies of the night, who could prepare it easily from provisions in a typical cupboard. 

Although the San Francisco Bay Area has not in recorded history been snowed under, I can still easily cook up a pot of Spaghetti Puttanesca from the items already in my cabinet.

puttanesca ingredients


Spaghetti Puttanesca


1 can tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

4 fillets of anchovies (drained canned tuna can be substituted, but the sauce will take on a different character)

1 tsp. capers

1/4 c. sliced olives

olive oil

1 lb. dry spaghetti

chopped fresh parsley, if available



  1. Mince garlic.
  2. Cut anchovies crosswise into about 1/2" pieces.
  3. Heat 2-3 Tbs. olive oil in a large skillet, add garlic. When garlic is golden and aromatic, add anchovies, then olives and capers.
  4. Add canned tomatoes, breaking up large pieces by squeezing them through your fingers, if necessary. Reduce heat to simmer.
  5. Meanwhile, boil spaghetti.
  6. Add cooked, drained spaghetti to the skillet and toss to coat. Garnish with parsley and serve.
  7. Be thankful that you have food to eat and a warm place to sleep.
sierra ski town spaghetti puttanesca 

Text and images © 2011 Grace Hwang Lynch



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Great story. Being the Italian that I am, I love this dish. Great for cold weather. Actually it's great anytime. Thanks Grace -R-
This is a dish that I swear I'm going to make one of these days. Now I have a recipe! Love your story - I can't imagine that kind of snow. We have "restock the SPAM aisle" kind of grocery store runs. Bonne chance!
Bonnie- We just drove over the Grapevine a few days ago, trying to beat out a storm. Good thing your Dad turned that down!

Christine- Thank you, I'm glad my rendition puttanesca meets muster with a real Italian ;)

Lucy- you can see it's really easy. My 5 y.o. even commented, "That looks good," but when I asked him if he wanted to try it, he passed. And, I did think about doing a SPAM piece!
Sound yummy, except I'd have to find a substitute for the anchovies. I love green olives and capers on just about anything with tomatoes in it.

Lezlie- I've seen some recipes call for drained canned tuna in place of the anchovies. I think that would change the flavor quite dramatically, though. A splash of fish sauce or worcestshire sauce (which contain anchovies) might impart a nice briny flavor without the little buggers, too.
Mmm...capers in anything. Tomatoes and olives too. The anchovies maybe I'd leave out. A beautiful, interesting post as always.~r
Nice recipe Grace.
I always keep anchovy paste in the fridge.

(puttana in Italian means, whore)

All I can say is yum. Many of my favorite foods, all in one dish.
Nice. Great picture, too, with a fork twirl and flourish of olive. Rated.
Love puttanesca. I have found that keeping a tube of anchovy paste around can add a lot of flavor to any of the tomato sauces. It is also the "flavor" or "umami" behind fish sauce in asian sauces, and worcestershire. It's sometimes best not to tell people it's in there until after they are enjoying it. One has to be picky with their brand of capers, they are not all the same.
Those are all my staples, too! I panic when I run out of capers and canned tomatoes. That pasta sounds like a great thing to eat after a day of skiing, too.
Pasta. Tomatoes. Olives. Capers. Oh. Just yum. :) Rated
Great post--funny and succinct. I'm book-marking the recipe.
Thanks! Sounds like a good one for a busy day with the kids too! Rated!
Sounds like our town before and after a hurricane -- or even a close call. Lots of panic, grocery-store "looting." I've never made puttanesca, now I'll have to give it a try. I DO have all the ingredients in my pantry.
Grace, scrumptious photos. I love the ingredients on newspaper especially. Sounds absolutely delicious!
Mmm. I have all that - except anchovies. I never have anchovies. Maybe I'll cook it tonight! Thanks Grace for the great idea.
Pasta is my favorite dish. I'll try this but I am tentative about anchovies. Thanks for the recipe.
Now you have me hungry for something new Italiano!
Thanks so much for the 'snow day' recipe idea! I enjoyed your back story as well.
Grace, I don't care for anchovies but use the paste for flavor, would that work? I have made this in a different way but never included anchovy for reason stated above. I used to work in a Greek restaurant and had to deal with them a lot...
Oh yes, the paste would work great. In fact, when you cook the sauce the anchovies get incorporated right in. I actually love anchovies, and will add some extra at the end for a kick!
Thanks Grace! I enjoy your recipes and stories.
Wonderful, much appreciated.
yummmmm... I want this right now. And I adore a kitchen that would have these ingredients at hand!
One of the best lessons of my adult life is that recipies are guides, not rules. It's amazing that we can throw things together (I'd choose rice over pasta, but the same principles apply) and have a good dish. And gratitude for enough.
As usual, you've made me very hungry! rated