Pasta Puttanesca

By Alexandra Caspero on March 23, 2024
A plant-rich version of the Italian classic.
Serves 4

Pasta Puttanesca! Ready in less than 30 minutes, this briny, salty pasta is a must for olive lovers! With canned tomatoes, garlic, and capers– this simple vegetarian pasta puttanesca is great for busy weeknights.

This pasta puttanesca recipe holds so many memories for me. My mom made it almost weekly growing up, and it really is comfort food to me. Salty, briny, and rich, this recipe comes together in just 20 minutes, making it the perfect weeknight dinner.

This pasta puttanesca also comes from my Italian cookbook. As that book becomes harder to find the more years pass, I’m working on adding the recipes here for you to enjoy. After making my puttanesca beans for you last month, I knew I had to share this simple pasta puttanesca recipe next!

Puttanesca is traditionally made with anchovies, and there really isn’t a perfect substitute. However, as I limit my fish intake, I’m substituting a little miso paste for the fish taste. Because anchovies are so traditional in puttanesca and because that’s how my mom made it, I’m including directions for that in the note section of the recipe if you’d like.

See below for more tips and details on making this pasta puttanesca recipe, or scroll down for the full recipe card.

Pasta Puttanesca 1

Ingredient Notes

  • Capers and Olives: These are a must and can’t be substituted in this recipe, as they add plenty of briny flavor, especially the additional caper and olive liquid. Kalamata olives are recommended here, though others can work in a pinch.
  • Garlic: Simmering the garlic in olive oil adds flavor to this dish, especially alongside the crushed red peppers. Fresh garlic is needed, and garlic powder cannot be substituted.
  • Miso Paste: For a vegetarian pasta puttanesca version, miso paste is used in place of traditional anchovy filets. If you don’t have the miso paste, you can substitute a little extra salt, but like anchovies, miso is rich in umami flavor and adds complexity to the dish.
  • Fresh Parsley: This is so much more than a garnish! The fresh parsley cuts through the richness of the capers and olives and provides balance and freshness. Do not skip.
  • Canned tomatoes: Diced tomatoes, or petite diced tomatoes, are my preferred tomatoes in this puttanesca recipe, but crushed tomatoes will also work. Whole tomatoes can also be used; just break them down as you add them to the olive oil for best results.
Pasta Puttanesca 2

How to Make Pasta Puttanesca Sauce

Saute the Garlic and Olive Oil

Saute the garlic in extra virgin olive oil and add the red pepper flakes. Stir in the miso paste.

Cook the Sauce

Pasta Puttanesca

Add the tomatoes, olives, capers and brine from the capers and olives and cook for 20 minutes over low heat.

Toss with Pasta

Toss with the cooked pasta and add in the parsley. Toss again to combine; off heat, stir in parmesan cheese, if desired.

Tips for Success

I salt my pasta water before adding the pasta, but I don’t add additional salt to the sauce. You likely don’t need it, especially if using the miso paste, caper brine, and olive brine. That said, if you are salt sensitive, I’d recommend going slow– adding just a little of the brines and then tasting, adding more as needed.

If your pasta is too thick after adding the sauce, add in a little pasta water, a tablespoon at a time to thin.

Parmesan cheese was always on my table growing up and I don’t know if my mom served a pasta without it! That said, I don’t think it’s really needed here as it adds in even more salt, so I don’t include it in the ingredient list. If you like parm in your pasta, or can’t imagine any pasta without it, like my mom, add off heat once the pasta and sauce are combined.

Bowl Of Capers And Olive Pasta With Tomatoes And Spaghetti

More Spaghetti Recipes

Bowl Of Spaghetti Alla Puttanesca

If you make this spaghetti alla puttanesca recipe, make sure to come back to leave a comment and a rating! Your feedback helps other readers, and seeing you make my recipes makes my day!

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Bowl Of Pasta Puttanesca

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Bowl Of Pasta Puttanesca

Pasta Puttanesca

  • Author: Alexandra Caspero
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: dinner, pasta, healthy
  • Method: stove top
  • Cuisine: American, Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

Pasta Puttanesca! Ready in less than 30 minutes, this briny, salty pasta is a must for olive lovers! With canned tomatoes, garlic, and capers– this simple vegetarian pasta puttanesca is great for busy weeknights.


  • Author: Alexandra Caspero
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: dinner, pasta, healthy
  • Method: stove top
  • Cuisine: American, Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian
  • Author: Alexandra Caspero
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: dinner, pasta, healthy
  • Method: stove top
  • Cuisine: American, Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian
Scale

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon miso paste* (or 4 anchovy filets, see notes)
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive brine (juice from jar of olives)
  • 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1/3 cup capers
  • 1 tablespoon caper brine (juice from jar of capers)
  • 12 ounces spaghetti, whole wheat if preferred
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley leaves**

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. While the water is boiling, make the sauce. In a large skillet over medium heat, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the 4 cloves of garlic and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and cook for 1 minute, until just fragrant. Stir in the 1/2 teaspoon of miso paste until melted.
  3. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients: 1/2 cup kalamata olives with a tablespoon of the brine, a 28-ounce can of tomatoes, 1/3 cup capers, and 1 tablespoon of caper brine. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Add the pasta to the water and cook according to package directions until just al dente. Drain, then add to the skillet with the pasta sauce. Add the 1/2 cup of fresh parsley and toss together until combined. Taste, adding salt/red pepper flakes as desired and serve.

Notes

*I included the anchovy filets as it’s how my mom’s original recipe is, and if you aren’t vegetarian, it makes for a more umami-rich sauce. Otherwise, use the miso paste. If you plan on using the anchovies, then cook them with the garlic and red pepper flakes. 

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Chef, and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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