Vegetarian Puttanesca + A Pasta Secret

For a long time, I thought I didn’t like pasta. Which didn’t make much sense to me because: 1) I was on very good terms with other carbohydrates; and, 2) I couldn’t attribute the weight I gained during my two brief stints in Italy to the gelato alone. 

But still, when I’d try my hand at making pasta at home – and I mean simply making a sauce to top store-bought noodles – it was just…OK


I used good ingredients. I managed a reasonable al dente. I wasn’t shy with the salt in the pasta water or the sauce. So what was the problem?

Somehow, I’d got it in my head that pasta was simply a vehicle for sauce, and so I’d been drowning my noodles. The last spiral would be eaten, and a pool of sauce would remain. 

But think of classic carb-sauce pairings, like toast and jam, fries and ketchup, bagels and cream cheese. Even the most liberal condiment lovers probably get more of the carbohydrate per bite than they do the sauce. And that’s essential. Because too much sauce becomes overwhelmingly sweet or salty or rich.


And pasta, I’ve come to see, is the same way. The noodles need to be visible, clothed in just a thin coating of sauce – a spring jacket rather than a parka. Seeing the yellow of the noodles peak through the sauce is a good thing. 

But for the final dish to taste like a proper dish, and not simply a fistful of boiled pasta rubbed with a bit of tomato, the sauce needs to have impact.


Enter: Puttanesca. For such a simple, speedy sauce, it’s immensely flavourful. Because each of the ingredients – most of which are flavourings, really – adds something significant and unique. Olive oil provides richness. Olives and capers add saltiness and bite. Chilies pack heat, soy sauce provides the umami lost by the omission of traditional anchovies (this is a vegetarian version, after all). Vinegar lightens. Tomatoes and basil add freshness. Cheese is just generally a good idea. 

And so, to those of you who love pasta, I can finally say: I get it, I’m with you! And to those who don’t, I ask: Have you tried the puttanesca?

Vegetarian Pasta Puttanesca
Adapted from Gourmet
Serves 6-8

1/4 cup of olive oil 
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp hot chili pepper
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes, blended until smooth
2 tbsp red wine vinegar (red wine will work too)
1 tbsp soy sauce (sounds weird, yes, but it does a nice job of replacing the salty, umaminess of the anchovies you usually find in puttanesca) 
3/4 cup kalamata olives, pits removed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup of capers, juice drained
3/4 tsp table salt
1 lb (454 g) of dry spaghetti
3/4 cup of fresh basil, sliced
Grated parmesan cheese 

Put the oil, garlic and chilies in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden (about 3-5 minutes). Add to the pot the blended tomatoes (be careful – when the tomatoes hit the oil, the oil may splatter a bit), vinegar, soy sauce, olives, capers and salt. Bring the sauce to a simmer over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the sauce thickens a bit.  

step-1.jpgWhile the sauce is simmering, cook your spaghetti in a large pot of boiling, well-salted water. Do your best to time things so that the pasta is finishing up at the same time as your sauce. 

Take the sauce off the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning (adding more chilies, salt, or vinegar) as you see fit. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta in the tasty puttanesca. Serve up the pasta, topping it off with a generous amount of basil and parmesan. 


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