Baked Swordfish with Salsa Puttanesca and Basil Oil

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

In Italy, salsa puttanesca is used on pasta, but I love it on firm, meaty fish, like swordfish or tuna. It’s also great on sautéed eggplant, on braised or boiled cauliflower, or on roasted veal. Stories abound about why this piquant sauce is named for the ladies of the night. One theory is that they like it because it’s quickly made, so it doesn’t keep them away from clients for long.

NotesThis recipe makes enough sauce for two meals. What you don’t use on the swordfish, you can use on pasta a day or two later.


I keep canned whole tomatoes in my pantry and use them whenever I can’t get fresh, ripe plum (Romal tomatoes. I rarely buy canned diced tomatoes because it’s so easy to dice them myself, and I almost never use tomato paste. The one canned tomato product I never buy is tomato puree, which is usually reconstituted tomato paste. If I need tomato puree, I’ll puree the tomatoes in a blender or food mill myself, using canned whole tomatoes in winter, or peeled and seeded plum tomatoes in summer. It takes about 1½ pounds of fresh plum tomatoes to make 2 cups puree. A 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes makes about 3½ cups puree.

I’m a big fan of Muir Glen’s organic canned tomato products. The company packs the tomatoes in an enameled rather than an unlined tin, so you don’t get any off flavors.


Cooking Methodsauteeing



Total Timeunder 30 minutes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, low calorie, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free


Taste and Textureherby, meaty, salty, savory

Type of Dishpasta sauce, sauces


  • 1½ cups tomato puree (see Notes)
  • ¼ cup bottled clam juice, preferably unsalted
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons anchovy minced to a paste
  • 2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and chopped
  • 1½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1½ teaspoons finely minced Calabrian chilies, or red pepper flakes to taste
  • 2/3 cup each Kalamata and Picholine olives, pitted and quartered
  • ½ cup peeled, seeded, and finely diced tomato
  • 4 swordfish steaks, each 6 ounces and about 1 inch thick
  • Sea salt, preferably gray salt, and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons Basil Oil 
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced fresh basil


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

  2. Make the sauce: In a bowl, whisk together the tomato puree and clam juice. Stir in the parsley, oregano, anchovy paste, capers, red wine vinegar, chilies, olives, and tomato. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Divide the sauce in half. Refrigerate one-half for use on pasta in the next day or two. Heat the other half in a skillet over moderate heat, then adjust the heat to keep the sauce hot without simmering. Season the swordfish with salt and pepper. Heat a large oven-proof skillet over high heat. When hot, add the olive oil. Add the swordfish, reduce the heat slightly, and cook on one side until nicely seared, about 2 minutes. Turn the steaks and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the fish is done throughout (test with a fork), 3 to 4 minutes.

  3. Transfer the swordfish to individual plates. Top each steak with some of the sauce, dividing it equally, then drizzle Basil Oil on the fish and on the plate. Garnish each steak with the basil.

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