This is a tomato sauce with attitude. It's bold, rich, and spicy, speckled with capers, olives, and tuna. Puttanesca is traditionally made with anchovies but tuna adds a special body to the sauce that makes this a hearty, robust winter meal, especially when layered over quinoa studded with lentils. But feel free to leave the tuna out if you're vegan.
To give this sauce a complex, thick, and sweet tomato flavor (without added sugar), I use three types of tomatoes; tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and tomato sauce. This may seem excessive but I find layering a variety of tomato products gives me the thick consistency and sweet flavor I'm after in a sauce like this. That being said, I'd rather you make this than not, so if necessary you could probably get by without the tomato paste.
Among the everyday meals I cook that turn out well (there are plenty experiments that fall flat too!), it's hard for me to distinguish between the good and special. I'm used to what I make and how I think about food, so it's easy for a special meal to pass across our dinner table without me realizing it's special. (Maybe my fellow food bloggers can identify?!)
Sometimes it takes cooking for guests (or for my clients and workshops) to recognize the beauty in my food. And that was the case with this meal. I made it during the holidays when my mom and sister-in-law were visiting. They said the sauce was really, really good and wanted to make it at home.
I liked it too, but was it really that good?
Apparently so. I trusted their enthusiasm and ran with it. Now I'm sharing it here so you can get enthusiastic about it too!
Notes: This sauce is spicy. If you're sensitive to heat, use just 1-2 tsp. red pepper flakes rather than the 1 Tbsp. called for in the recipe. Recipe also calls for crushed tomatoes. If you can't find crushed, roughly puree diced or whole canned tomatoes with a stick blender or food processor. You can always serve this over pasta. But I like a base of quinoa and lentils. See more details in notes below the recipe.
- 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced
- 1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes (less if prefer less spice)
- 2-120 gr. jars best-quality, sustainable tuna (packed in olive oil or water)
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1-660 gr (720 ml) jar crushed tomatoes
- 1-270 gr. (275 ml) carton tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) water
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 4 Tbsp. capers
- 4 Tbsp. pitted olives (Manzanilla, green Greek olives, and Kalamata olives work well)
- Cooked quinoa or quinoa + lentils (*see notes below)
- Seedy Crumble (recipe below) or shards of parmesan broken off using tip of knife
- Heat a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add oil, onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Sauté until onions begin to soften (2-3 minutes). Be careful to not let the oil get too hot and smoke.
- Flake in tuna (holding back the oil or water it's packed in). Stir through tomato paste so tuna is coated. Then add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, and salt.
- Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook 10 minutes. Add capers, and olives and cook another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. The sauce should be rich (stain-worthy!), thick, and slightly sweet (not acidic).
*Quinoa + Lentil Base:
This is an easy way to spruce up the usual quinoa staple. The al dente texture of the lentils adds a nice bite to the quinoa. When cooking quinoa and lentils together, I use 1 part green or black lentils to 2 parts quinoa. (To serve 4-6, this is 1/2 cup lentils + 1 cup quinoa.) I soak the grains together overnight, drain, rinse, and cook as I would regular quinoa, with 2 cups water and a generous pinch of salt, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let steam 5 minutes, then fluff with fork.
- 4 Tbsp. sunflower seeds, toasted
- 1/3 cup (40 gr) shelled hemp seeds
- Heaping 1/8 tsp. salt
- Toast sunflower seeds in a small pan over medium heat until lightly toasted, tossing occasionally.
- Place all ingredients in a small food processor and pulse a few times until you get the texture of coarse sand.
- Replace sunflower seeds with blanched (skinless) almonds
- For extra "cheesy" flavor, add 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast