Spaghetti puttanesca fulfils many roles in my life. It’s a fast midweek meal and a kitchen staple for hangovers (umami + plenty of good olive oil), but mostly puttanesca is a delicious solution to dinner when there are not many fresh ingredients knocking about. So long as there are olives and capers present (there always are), and a tin of tomatoes, I’m golden.
My preparation is based on the Italian tomato spaghetti recipe by Bertolli that includes the basic components of a good puttanesca: garlic, olives, capers, anchovies, and tomatoes. Except we don’t eat fish around here.
This Italian meal, like many others, has both regional and personal variations. Some might argue anchovies are a must-have ingredient for this pasta dish, but it can absolutely be made sans fish. So. Let’s talk a little bit about how and why they should be replaced rather than omitted.
Anchovies are packed with glutamate and nucleotide contents, ingredients that render the flavour sensation we are finally coming to understand in the West as umami. Combined with a sturdy tomato sauce, where glutamates are already present, and salt to boost the umami, this powerful ingredient adds a depth of savouriness that is forgotten when we simply eliminate those tiny swimmers.
That hugely pungent savoury kick can, however, be replaced with the aid of fermented soy products. I chose a combination of fermented white bean curd and white miso paste for my vegan puttanesca – the former for it’s funkiness and the latter for it’s mellow sweet richness. Both contain enough salt to sustain the puttanesca sauce, but you can of course add more if you disagree. Together they are a bit whiffy and impart a deeply savoury flavour.
And let’s not forget (as I almost did!) the third secret ingredient: nutritional yeast. Often overlooked as a powerful source of umami, vegans have long known the flavour-enhancing properties of these deactivated yeast flakes. This vitamin rich ingredient conveys a nutty savouriness that, along with the fermented soy ingredients, elevates the already flavoursome sauce further.
P.S. olives are also a good source of umami.
Vegan Spaghetti Puttanesca
A combination of fermented white tofu, white shiro miso, and nutritional yeast flakes are employed to replace the savoury punch lost by the elimination of anchovies in this vegan puttanesca recipe. The former two ingredients are easily found at any good East Asian grocer. This pasta recipe is based on one by Bertolli.
- 50 millilitres (3 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 400 gram tin chopped tomatoes
- 85 grams (a heaped half cup) pitted black olives, halved
- 30 grams (2 tablespoons) capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoons mashed fermented white tofu and brine
- 1 teaspoon white miso
- ⅛-¼ teaspoon chilli flakes (optional)
- Salt and pepper
- 350 grams dried spaghetti
- Handful of chopped parsley
- Vegan parmesan style cheese (optional)
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or sauté pan to medium heat. Tip in the garlic and fry until soft and fragrant.
- Add the tinned tomatoes, black olives, capers, nutritional yeast, fermented tofu, miso, and chili flakes. Simmer for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- In the meantime, cook the spaghetti per packet instructions. Drain and add the spaghetti to the pan with the puttanesca sauce. Toss together.
- Serve garnished with parsley and shaved vegan hard cheese, if using.
- Author: Kip Dorrell (adapted from Bertolli)
- Serves: 4
- Cuisine: Italian
Blog feature and recipe commissioned by Bertolli. All opinions are my own.