There is perhaps no pasta dish that teases and titillates a vegan cook’s imagination as maddeningly as Pasta Puttanesca. Brazen and vibrant, this Italian classic, which literally translates to whore’s pasta, appears at once attainable (all but one ingredient is vegan) and forbidding (darn those anchovies!).
Italian lore has it that Pasta Puttanesca was thus named because it was invented by prostitutes hoping to lure customers in with its rich aroma. Other versions attribute the sauce to the prostitutes’ uber-busy lifestyles: they didn’t have time to go shop for fresh ingredients, so they just threw together what was in the pantry.
Whatever its origins, Pasta Puttanesca is one of those dishes that, once you’ve had it, is impossible to forget.
In my pre-vegan days it was one of the pasta dishes I cooked the most, but after going fish-free I didn’t dare try it because it seemed close to impossible to find a vegan replacement for the anchovies. While it is easy enough to swap out fishy stuff in most dishes, the reason why it just seems that much harder with Pasta Puttanesca is that the anchovies and their peculiar saltiness melt into the sauce, forming a strong flavor base that ties together the rest of the ingredients, like the tomatoes, olives and garlic. Without the anchovies, in other words, you’d just be eating pasta in a tomato sauce with olives. And while that can be tasty enough, what’s the big deal about it?
When I first shared this Vegan Pasta Puttanesca recipe with you back in 2011 (it was titled “Vegan Slut’s Spaghetti at the time 😉 — a saucy sobriquet first used by Nigella Lawson), I researched replacements for anchovies and came up with suggestions ranging from vegetarian Worcestershire sauce to capers, but neither seemed like they would replicate that oceany flavor and rich saltiness of the anchovies. Besides, puttanesca sauce recipes usually already contain capers.
Then, I had a small brainwave that sent me rushing to my pantry. I used two ingredients to replace the anchovies: seaweed, which brought to the sauce that fresh-ocean flavor, and tamari, which added a rich, deep, sweet saltiness.
My Vegan Pasta Puttanesca did not miss a flavor beat. It is perhaps the pasta dish that’s most requested and cooked in my kitchen, and even little Jay has come to love it. I have updated the recipe, so I wanted to share it with you again, and to remind you once again that because you are vegan, there’s really no need to miss out on your favorite recipes.
This is one to fall in love with. Enjoy, all!
Vegan Pasta alla Puttanesca
- 1 pound whole-wheat or regular spaghetti or fettucine
- 2 tbsp powdered seaweed (I crumpled up Nori sheets, put them in my blender, and processed them to a fine powder. A spice grinder might work even better.)
- 1 tbsp Tamari (use soy sauce if you don't have this)
- 1 28-oz can plum or San Marzano tomatoes, crushed, or 10 fresh tomatoes, diced, with all juices
- 1 cup pitted, oil-cured olives, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 tbsp capers
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente
- While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the garlic and red pepper and toss until the garlic turns lightly golden.
- Add the powdered seaweed and stir for another minute.
- Add the tomatoes, olives, oregano, parsley, and capers. Cook over medium heat until the tomatoes release their juices and the juices start to thicken. If using canned tomatoes, cook for 15 minutes or until the sauce turns a deep red.
- Add the tamari and more salt, if needed. Season with ground black pepper.
- Add the pasta to the sauce, toss to coat, and turn off the heat. Garnish with more parsley if you like, and serve hot.
More delicious pastas from the archives:
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