Vegan puttanesca is a super simple pasta dish with strong, delicious flavours. If you’re looking for something quick and dirty to serve for dinner tonight, this is it!
- What is puttanesca?
- Puttanesca vs arrabbiata
- What does puttanesca sauce taste like?
- Puttanesca without anchovies
- Vegan pasta puttanesca ingredients
- How to make vegan puttanesca
- Substitutions and variations
- Storage tips
- How to serve vegan spaghetti puttanesca
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- Did you make this recipe?
What is puttanesca?
Pasta puttanesca or spaghetti alla puttanesca is an Italian pasta dish featuring tomatoes, olives, anchovies, capers, red chili flakes and garlic.
As with any dish, there are many variations as to how sugo alla puttanesca (puttanesca sauce) can be made and some versions are accidentally vegan.
You’re probably familiar with the fact that puttanesca means of, or relating to a prostitute. It’s unknown how this pasta got it’s name but there are several different theories that I won’t go into here but you can google.
What makes pasta puttanesca a great recipe is how easy and quick it is to prepare and the fact that it uses shelf-stable ingredients that you can keep in your pantry for when you need a quick dinner.
Puttanesca vs arrabbiata
If you’re a fan of spicy pasta, then you may also be familiar with arrabbiata sauce.
Puttanesca and arrabbiata are both tomato-based pasta sauces that have a similar flavor profile and spiciness.
The difference between puttanesca and arrabbiata is that while they both feature tomato, garlic, olive oil and red chili flakes, puttanesca also contains olives, capers and (usually) anchovies, while arrabbiata does not.
Furthermore, people are most familiar with puttanesca being served over spaghetti while arrabbiata is usually served over penne (although both sauces can be served over any pasta shape, really).
What does puttanesca sauce taste like?
Pasta puttanesca is known for having strong, bold, pungent and contrasting flavors.
Olives, capers and anchovies are all briny and umami-rich. Tomatoes contrast that with freshness and some sweetness, and red chili flakes add spice. Fragrant flavors are added with either basil, oregano or parsley.
However, even though the recipe features anchovies, the dish isn’t meant to be fishy-tasting or have a pronounced anchovy flavor. Rather, the anchovies are meant to blend in and add umami more than anything.
Additionally, Italian recipes call for de-salting the anchovies and capers by rinsing and soaking them so that the finished dish is not overly salty despite it’s multiple salt-brined ingredients.
If you like rich, flavorful dishes that are easy to prepare with basic ingredients, you’ll love this vegan puttanesca recipe!
Puttanesca without anchovies
Puttanesca sauce is associated with anchovies but if you’re vegan or don’t like anchovies, you may be wondering if pasta puttanesca can be made without anchovies.
The answer is yes, you can omit the anchovies from your recipe to make a totally vegan puttanesca sauce.
In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Neapolitan version of the recipe is made without anchovies while the anchovies were added to the recipe in the neighbouring region of Lazio (where Rome is).
As I mentioned previously, puttanesca sauce is not meant to have a fishy flavor. Instead, the anchovies are meant to blend in and add a briny umami flavor.
The olives and capers also add briny umami but there are other ways to add additional umami if you want.
A teaspoon or two of miso paste, vegan Worcestershire sauce, vegan fish sauce, dried (and rehydrated) mushrooms, seaweed such as a crumbled sheet of nori, or soy sauce are all vegan options for adding umami to a dish.
Vegan pasta puttanesca ingredients
The good thing about this vegan puttanesca recipe is that the ingredients are shelf-stable. You can pick them up from your grocery store and keep them in the pantry until you’re in need of a quick and tasty dinner!
Pasta: Spaghetti alla puttanesca is the recipe most people are familiar with. However, you can use another pasta shape if you prefer: linguini, penne, or even fusilli can work.
Olive oil: A good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
Tomatoes: Luckily you don’t have to wait until tomato season to make this recipe since canned tomatoes are perfect here. Ideally, you should use San Marzano tomatoes, or another good-quality tomato, but if you can’t find them/they’re too expensive, you can use any canned tomatoes.
Capers: The Italian recipes I’ve googled typically call for capers packed in salt. Unfortunately, most capers outside of Italy are packed in a vinegar brine like pickles are. That makes Italian capers more flavourful, plumper and more tender as their flavour hasn’t leached out into the packing liquid. If you have access to an Italian market, go for the salt-packed capers but be sure to soak them in water for about 15 minutes to remove the excess salt. If not, you can use the common brined capers and give them a quick rinse under the tap to remove the vinegar before using.
Olives: Gaeta olives are small dark purple/black olives from the Gaeta region in Italy and are the olive of choice for pasta puttanesca. An easier-to-find alternative is kalamata. Whatever type of olive you choose, make sure that it’s a nice one!
Red chilli flakes: Or red pepper flakes or crushed red pepper add heat to the puttanesca. You can add as much or as little as your spice tolerance will allow.
Onion and garlic: These aromatics form the background flavor profile. Garlic is an important ingredient in puttanesca. For a more pronounced garlic flavor, you can grate it instead of mincing it.
Herbs: Italian flat leaf parsley is a good choice for this dish. Oregano or basil can also be used.
Salt and black pepper
How to make vegan puttanesca
Vegan puttanesca takes less than 20 minutes to make and is ideal for a quick and easy weeknight dinner.
Cook the pasta: Start by putting a large pot of water on to boil. When the water boils, add a generous pinch of salt and your pasta.
Cook until the pasta is just short of al dente. You’ll add the pasta to the sauce to finish cooking and allow it to soak up all that flavor. Be sure to reserve some of the pasta-cooking water to add to the saucepan if needed to help finish the pasta.
Prep your ingredients: While the pasta cooks you can prep the sauce by chopping the onion and mincing the garlic. Also chop up whichever herb you’re using.
Drain and give the capers a quick rinse under cool water to remove some of the brine. Then roughly chop them.
If your olives have pits, cut the flesh off from around the pits. If your olives are pitted, roughly chop them.
Make the puttanesca sauce: Add the olive oil to a large pan and heat it over medium heat.
Fry the onion, garlic and red pepper flakes.
Pour in the can of whole tomatoes. Use your spoon to break the tomatoes up into small chunks. Stir in the olives and capers and bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.
Allow the tomato sauce to gently simmer and thicken while the pasta cooks.
Finish the dish: Add the slightly undercooked pasta to the sauce and toss it together. Allow the pasta to continue cooking in the sauce, adding splashes of the reserved pasta water as necessary, until the pasta is al dente.
Taste and add salt, if necessary, and pepper. Sprinkle with your herb of choice and serve.
Substitutions and variations
Olives: Italian recipes usually call for Gaeta olives. They can be hard to find so kalamata is the most common substitute. Any good-quality Italian, Greek or Spanish black olive will do. Canned black olives, however, won’t really give you the same bang for your buck. If you don’t have/don’t like black olives, you can substitute a good quality green olive.
Herbs: Most Italian recipes I’ve seen call for fresh parsley but you can substitute basil or oregano (or a combination of both) if you prefer. If you don’t have fresh herbs, use a teaspoon of dried.
Anchovy substitutes: Puttanesca sauce usually calls for anchovies but my recipe simply omits them. If you want to add a bit more salty umami flavor to substitute anchovies, try stirring in a teaspoon of white miso paste, vegan Worcestershire sauce, vegan fish sauce, dried (and rehydrated) mushrooms, seaweed such as a crumbled sheet of nori, or soy sauce
Capers: If you don’t have capers, add additional olives or go for a combination of green and black olives. I wouldn’t use pickles in this recipe as a caper substitute.
Most dried pasta is vegan with the only ingredients being semolina flour and water. Some dried pasta is made with egg but it will be clearly marked on the package. Fresh pasta usually contains egg and is not vegan.
Gaeta olives are the traditional olive used in spaghetti alla puttanesca. A good substitute is kalamata olives.
Puttanesca sauce is usually served over spaghetti. Linguine or penne are also good pasta shapes for puttanesca.
Yes, puttanesca sauce is a bit spicy. One teaspoon of red pepper flakes is usually enough heat for this recipe but you can adjust the heat up or down according to your tolerance for spicy food.
This vegan puttanesca is best served freshly made. If you are anticipating having leftovers, before adding the pasta, remove some of the sauce from the pan into a storage container and store it separately in the fridge. When ready to serve, combine this reserved sauce with freshly-cooked pasta.
If you have leftover pasta puttanesca, you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge for 2 - 3 days. Keep in mind that the pasta will absorb the sauce and affect the texture and flavor of the pasta.
Pasta is not good for freezing. The sauce can be frozen separately for up to 3 months.
To reheat, place the pasta in a microwave safe container or in a pan over medium-low heat on the stove. Add a couple tablespoons of water to rehydrate the pasta while reheating.
How to serve vegan spaghetti puttanesca
- Green salad
- Garlic bread
- Peperonata (stewed bell peppers)
- Vegan minestrone soup
- 250 grams (9 oz) pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ large onion, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon red chili flakes (adjust to taste)
- 1 large can (425 grams / 15 oz) whole tomatoes
- ¼ packed cup (60 grams) good quality chopped black olives
- 4 tablespoons chopped capers, rinsed under cool water
- A handful of fresh chopped herbs (I used a mix of oregano and basil)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Put salted water on to boil for the pasta.
- Heat a wide pan over medium-high heat and add the oil and onion. Fry, stirring occasionally, until soft and transparent then add the garlic and red chili flakes. Fry, stirring, for 30 seconds more or until soft and fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes, breaking them into chunks with your spoon, the olives and capers. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
- When the water for the pasta boils, add the pasta but undercook it by about a minute (it will continue cooking in the sauce).
- Transfer the slightly undercooked pasta to the pan with the sauce, reserving some of the pasta water. Allow the pasta to finish cooking to al dente, adding pasta water by the tablespoon as needed to keep it cooking.
- When the pasta is cooked to al dente, remove the pan from the heat and stir through the herbs and salt and pepper to taste.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 241Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 549mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 6gSugar: 2gProtein: 6g