This spaghetti alla puttanesca recipe takes a quick, classic Italian pasta dish and makes it vegan and gluten free. The tomato-based sauce is flavoured with garlic, olives and capers and made without anchovies.
What is Spaghetti alla Puttanesca?
Puttanesca is a pasta dish that originated from Naples, Italy. It’s believed to be the first dish to originate from that city.
In Italian, puttanesca means “prostitute” or “ladies of the night”. So essentially, spaghetti alla puttanesca is a “prostitute’s pasta”. Such a cheeky definition for such a delicious dish right? But there are many stories about how the dish came about.
One story suggests the name comes from the fact that the ingredients were one’s only a prostitute had available to use when she made late-night meals for herself or clients. Italian prostitutes were not allowed to go out during the day, so the ingredients were only shelf-stable.
Another story mentioned that it was the brothel owner who cooked it to entice clients to come in with the nice smell of the dish. But regardless of the origin, most would agree that puttanesca is a very popular dish.
It uses 10 ingredients or less and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare, in about the amount of time to cook the pasta! You probably already have some of these ingredients lying around in your pantry.
I don’t know about you, but these are certainly my favourite kinds of pasta dishes. This spaghetti alla puttanesca recipe serves two because it’s worth sharing!
What are the main ingredients used in traditional Puttanesca?
Note: This puttanesca recipe will use substitutions of some traditional ingredients listed below to make it vegan and to use up some ingredients I already had. I’ll note my substitutions below:
Spaghetti is most commonly used in puttanesca but you could also make this recipe with penne, linguine, bucatini, and vermicelli. I’ll be using gluten free spaghetti.
Using fresh tomatoes helps one stay true to traditional puttanesca but they don’t provide that deep, rich tomato flavour that I personally like from using slow-cooked tomatoes. Canned tomatoes give the sauce more flavour and texture.
I used one can of whole tomatoes and crushed them to my desired texture. If you’d still like to use up some fresh tomatoes, you can pair them with a can of tomato puree to get both the flavour and texture.
Capers are small green flower buds typically packaged in a vinegar solution. The best way I can describe the flavour is tangy with a cross between an olive and a pickle.
They have a pleasant, unique flavour but can make the dish salty if too much is used. You can also rinse them to remove some of the saltiness before using.
Black Gaeta Olives
Black Gaeta olives (originating from the Italian city, Gaeta) were traditionally used to make puttanesca. Black Gaeta olives are ripened on the tree before being picked. They are milder in flavour than green olives.
These are different from the typical canned black olives that you find in the supermarket that sometimes have added colouring to make them appear black. They don’t have the best flavour so I would avoid using them in this dish.
However, I did use green olives in this recipe since I had some on hand but feel free to use black Gaeta olives or Kalamata if you have some. Olives are also salty and can limit the need for additional salt in the recipe, especially when paired with capers.
This vegan puttanesca recipe uses garlic and lots of it! I love the flavour of garlic but you can use more or less if you prefer. Fresh is best for traditional puttanesca. The first step in making the sauce is infusing the oil with garlic so try to use fresh garlic for the best flavour.
Fresh parsley gives the dish a mild herbaceous flavour however other variations of puttanesca have used oregano. I had some dried parsley so I used some instead.
These are red chilli peppers. They add a pleasant spicy kick to puttanesca but are optional. I used dried chilli flakes in this recipe.
This puttanesca recipe will be made without anchovies so that it’s vegan and vegetarian friendly. They are meant to give the dish some umami or deep savoury flavour.
But you can still boost the umami flavour without the fishiness by adding liquid aminos or more capers and olives. Liquid aminos is a gluten free soy sauce alternative that I use in so many recipes.
It elevates the flavour of many dishes but it is also salty so there’s no need for extra salt in the recipe. I added 2 teaspoons along with a few more olives.
How to make Vegan Spaghetti alla Puttanesca for Two
1. Place a pan on low heat and add 2 tbsp/30ml olive oil and 4 cloves of thinly sliced garlic. Allow the garlic to slowly infuse the oil. High heat will burn the garlic quickly.
2. Once the garlic starts to brown, add 12 olives, 2 tbsp/28g capers and ½ tsp/1g red chilli flakes. Continue to infuse the oil with these flavours on low heat for about 3 minutes.
3. Stir in 2 tsp/10ml liquid aminos and 1 can (14oz/400g) of whole tomatoes that is crushed with a fork or your hands to your desired texture. Increase the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Add fresh or dried parsley and black pepper to taste (optional). Most of the ingredients are salty so there might be no need for added salt. But taste the sauce and add some if it better suits your taste.
5. Add 6oz/170g cooked and drained gluten free spaghetti. Gently toss in the sauce to coat completely.
6. Remove from heat and serve immediately. You can garnish with extra parsley and olive oil for more flavour.
Can puttanesca sauce be frozen?
You can definitely freeze puttanesca if you’d like to make a large batch for later. The sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months in an airtight container.
You can also use a freezer-safe bag. Fill the bag and lay flat on a baking tray until it’s completely frozen. This makes it easier to store. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
How to reheat the sauce
You can reheat puttanesca sauce in a pan at medium-low heat.
More Vegan Pasta Recipes to Try
Vegan and Gluten Free Spaghetti alla Puttanesca
- 6 oz gluten free spaghetti, (170g)
- 2 tbsp olive oil, (30ml)
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 12 pitted olives, black Gaeta, green or Kalamata
- 2 tbsp capers, (28g)
- 1 can of whole tomatoes, (14oz/400g)
- ½ tsp red chilli flakes, (2g) optional
- 2 tsp liquid aminos, (10ml) optional
- 2 tsp dried parsley, or a handful of fresh
- Salt and pepper, optional
- Cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
- Place a pan on low heat and add olive oil and sliced garlic. Allow the garlic to slowly infuse the oil. High heat will burn the garlic quickly.
- Once the garlic starts to brown, add olives, capers and red chilli flakes. Continue to infuse the oil with these flavours on low heat for about 3 minutes.
- Add the whole tomatoes to a bowl and crush with a fork or your hands to your desired texture. Add to the pan with the liquid aminos. Give it a stir and increase the heat to medium. Simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add fresh or dried parsley and black pepper to taste (optional). Most of the ingredients are salty so there might be no need for added salt. But taste the sauce and add some if it better suits your taste.
- Add cooked and drained gluten free spaghetti. Gently toss in the sauce to coat completely.
- Remove from heat and serve immediately. You can garnish with extra parsley and olive oil for more flavour.
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