Puttanesca is a classic Italian pasta dish invented in Naples in the mid-20th century and made typically with tomatoes, olive oil, olives, capers, anchovies, and garlic. This quick and easy vegan version omits the anchovies. The capers and Kalamata olives still provide plenty of umami saltiness, while the spirulina pasta provides a taste of the sea.
Origins of sauce puttanesca
This classic dish emerged sometime after World War II when tomato-based sauces grew in popularity among the Italian middle class. There are many stories and tales as to where Puttanesca actually originated. You can read some of these interesting food history stories here.
The ingredients for Puttanesca are simple: olives, capers, anchovies, garlic, and chili. Even these are interchangeable; in Naples, they don’t tend to use anchovies. But, as so often with Italian recipes, no two cooks put them together in the same way.
100% vegan pasta puttanesca
This recipe omits the traditional combination of anchovies. I am using spirulina pasta for a taste of the sea, but you are welcome to use any pasta you like. Try adding some of your favorite seaweeds for a seafood flavor.
What's the secret to a good puttanesca?
Good fresh ingredients. Italian cooking is ingredient-driven. With the simplicity of Italian dishes, it's paramount to have good ingredients, cooked and served fresh out of the pan.
Tomatoes - Foundation
Tomatoes provide the backbone of the dish. In this recipe, I use vine-ripe cherry tomatoes. Some Puttanesca recipes call for tinned tomatoes, passata, or tomato puree for extra 'sauciness'. You may play around with this recipe and add some extra tomatoes if you prefer.
Garlic - Flavour
Italian cuisine, much like Thai cooking, nearly always starts with frying garlic and chili; sometimes shallot also. Source some good quality fresh garlic, mince it down, and gently fry in olive oil. Be careful not to burn it though or it will turn your sauce bitter. I fry the garlic together with the chili in this recipe.
Chili - Fire
Some versions of Puttanesca use dried chili for their high impact, others like to use fresh chili for a more subtle and longer-lasting kick. In this recipe, I use fresh chili and you can add as much or little as you feel.
Capers - Saltiness
Capers add a floral, tangy, and salty flavor to this dish. They are salty because of the way manufacturers process and store them. Capers are brined or packed in salt, which is where the flavor comes from. They provide a pleasant rich sourness to the overall dish. To be used sparingly so as to not overpower the other flavors.
Olives - Kalamata
Good quality, salty, and umami-rich olives are paramount here. Kalamata can be found in all good grocery stores. You can buy them already stoned. Slice them in ½ or ¼ to distribute them throughout the sauce nicely.
Olive Oil - Richness
I drizzle over some good-quality olive oil just before serving this recipe for extra richness.
Parsley - fresh herbs
Thinly sliced fresh flat-leaf parsley stirred for a couple of minutes before the end of cooking provides the ultimate fresh peppery tone to this dish. Some cooks choose to add dried oregano, coriander, or fresh basil, all of these combinations are enjoyable to eat, but flat-leaf parsley is my first preference.
Salt - a taste of the sea
The heat of the garlic and chili is countered by umami in the form of olives and capers. Salted capers and good quality Kalamata olives are a must here. I stir some in towards the end of cooking and sprinkle some more on top, so there are some nice bursts of umami saltiness dispersed throughout the dish, rather than everything mixed in together.
While Italy counted 250 - 260 types of pasta in the late 1800s, the number of traditional pasta shapes has been reduced to 55 - 60. Pasta is the ultimate comfort food, it's so versatile to cook with.
For this particular recipe, I've used a Spirulina pasta made here in Phuket. It's made with only wheat and spirulina, providing a subtle taste of the sea from the spirulina algae, in place of the traditional anchovies.
Puttanesca is the sauce and you are really free to use whatever pasta shape you have or like. I would advise using good quality fresh pasta of course. Many of the big brands are highly dried and mass-produced, they can also spike your sugar levels. There are lots of good quality and gluten-free pastas available now.
Equipment you will need
You will not require any fancy equipment. All you'll need is:
- Chopping board and knife
- Garlic crusher or you can use your knife
- Medium-sized saute pan for making the sauce
- Medium-sized saucepan for cooking the pasta
- Wooden spoon
- Serving Bowl
How to make pasta puttanesca
This recipe can be made in 15 minutes, from start to finish if you're organized! The full recipe and method are below, here are the bullet points.
- Bring some lightly salted water to a boil, and cook pasta as per packet instructions.
- In the meantime, finely chop the garlic and chili.
- Gently cook garlic and chili in olive oil
- Add the ½ cherry tomatoes with a pinch of salt and cook out for 6-8 minutes until soft.
- Add a few splashes of water to make a sauce consistency.
- Chop the capers and olives - finely chop and add to sauce.
- Finely chop the parsley and add to the sauce.
- Drain the pasta, toss in a little olive oil, and then mix through the sauce.
- Check the seasoning and serve.
- You can use any pasta for this recipe.
- Try using a good quality passata or tomato sauce in place of the cherry tomatoes.
- Basil, oregano, coriander, or rocket all work well in place of parsley.
- Add as much or as little garlic and chili as you like to suit your taste.
- Boost the protein content by adding some grilled, tempeh, tofu, or chickpeas.
This recipe is great served as a lunchtime dish, with a nice fresh salad. If you make extra, it can be heated up later as a snack! Try adding my Chickpea Socca recipe as a nice protein-packed flatbread.
Let's get cooking some pasta puttanesca
I hope you enjoy this recipe. Puttanesca sauce originated from humble beginnings. Hunger + Creativity for using what dried ingredients were left in the kitchen cupboard!
- Weighing scales
- Chopping board
- Chefs knife
- Frying pan - non stick
- Saucepan - medium size
- Serving bowl
- 150 g Fettuccini
- 20 ml Olive oil
- 10 g Garlic minced
- 300 g Tomato - cherry cut in half
- 20 g Capers rinsed and chopped
- 50 g Black olives kalamata
- 1 each Red chili - Thai sliced
- 30 g Parsley Italian
- 1 teaspoon Pink salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon Black pepper - ground to taste
- Assemble all ingredients
- Crush garlic clove
- Rinse and finely chop capers
- Wash and chop parsley
- Drain and slice Kalamata olives
- Boil some water, add salt, cook Fettuccine for 8 to 10 minutes, or as according to packet instructions.
- Heat frying pan
- Add olive oil, followed by crushed garlic; cook gently for 2 minutes
- Add chili and tomatoes; cook out for 8-10 minutes
- Add the chopped caper and olives to the sauce
- Drain the cooked pasta.
- Add the drained pasta to sauce, mix it all together
- Add chopped parsley and check seasoning
- Sprinkle with some extra olives and capers to garnish
- Top with some fresh parsley leaf and a drizzle of olive oil