I absolutely love this dish because:
(a) I LOVE olives.
(b) It’s sooo simple.
(c) It’s a “pantry dish” – which means, all the items required are usually stockpiled in my pantry. If I come home late from work and have NOTHING fresh in my fridge – I can still throw this pasta together!
(d) Did I mention I LOVE olives?
This dish is really a riff on pasta alla puttanesca, or “whore’s pasta.”
Yep, you read that right. Italy’s “ladies of the night” supposedly cooked up this spicy sauce, and then wafted the aroma out their windows into the street to entice men inside their abodes of ill repute.
Or, (not as interesting but perhaps more realistic), the ladies fed this to their “customers” since it was very inexpensive and easy to make.
There’s also some evidence that pasta puttanesca was not utilized by the ladies of the night at all, but instead was invented and named by Sandro Petti, one of the owners of Rancio Fellone restaurant in the 1960’s. Sandro apparently thought the racy name would boost sales of the dish. He may well have been right, because pasta puttanesca was a very trendy entree throughout the ’60s and ’70s.
Traditionally, puttanesca sauce is a spicy tomato sauce with lots of oregano, parsley, and black olives. The authentic version has either capers or anchovies. Since I’m vegan, of course this version does not have anchovies. I’ve made it with capers, and it was quite good. But my stepmother (the famous ghost story writer Nancy Roberts) always made spaghetti with green olives, and I loved her (and her spaghetti) so much I’ve been partial to throwing a few green olives into tomato sauce ever since. A few green olives can work wonders with any sauce, and I think they’re especially appropriate here as a salty, briny substitute for capers.
- One small Onion, finely chopped
- 2 – 4 large cloves Garlic, minced or pressed
- 2 TBL Olive Oil
- 1 cup + 1/4 cup Red Wine (optional)
- 2 14-oz cans Diced Tomatoes
- 1/4 cup Black Olives, sliced
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup Green Olives, sliced (or 1-2 TBL capers)
- 1/2 tsp Oregano
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 tsp Dried Parsley (and/or a handful of Fresh Parsley, chopped)
- Vegan Parmesan Cheese (I like Galaxy’s )
Saute onions in olive oil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and saute for a few minutes more, until the onion is translucent. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
(Optional) – Drink 1 cup of the red wine and add the remaining 1/4 cup red wine to the onions and garlic. Raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil, stirring and scraping any bits of onions and garlic stuck to the bottom of the pot. Boil for about 2 minutes. This is called “deglazing” the pot. The wine will also add a hint of sweetness to the tomatoes.
Add the tomatoes, oregano, black and green olives, red pepper, and dried parsley. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Serve over cooked pasta (spaghetti or angel hair is traditional).
If you have fresh parsley, sprinkle it over the pasta.
Although cheese is not traditional with this recipe, I usually top with vegan parmesan cheese.
- This is a true “pantry recipe,” which means you can use pretty much whatever tomatoes are in your pantry and it will still turn out OK. I prefer using diced tomatoes, because the chunkiness and flavor remind me of fresh tomatoes. However, my mother always liked to use stewed tomatoes, cut into smaller pieces with cooking shears. You could also combine textures – a can of diced tomatoes and a can of stewed; or a can of diced tomatoes and a can of crushed.
- I usually cook with plain tomatoes, as this is the most economical/sensible thing to stock in my pantry. However, you could also use flavored tomatoes provided they are compatible with Italian food. Stewed tomatoes may be labeled “Italian.” But diced or crushed tomatoes could be labeled, “rosemary and oregano,” or, “garlic and basil.” Stay away from anything not Italian sounding, like “roasted chipotle peppers” or “zesty green chilis” or, heaven forbid, “chili style.” Tomatoes with green peppers and celery would probably not work too well, either.
- I usually use just a small can of sliced black salad olives; however if you want to splurge, a handful of kalamata olives taste decadent!
- NEVER cook with a wine you do not enjoy drinking.