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Low Carb Italian Puttanesca on Spaghetti Squash

Low Carb Italian Puttanesca on Spaghetti Squash
Home » Tomato Recipes » Low carb Italian Puttanesca

Italian Puttanesca is a bold, robust sauce typically served over a bowl of pasta. If you substitute in spaghetti squash for the pasta you have a low carb Puttaesca that rivals the original. This recipe uses smoked tomatoes for a little more bold flavor, but it is equally delicious with tomatoes that are not smoked.

Jump to: Recipe | What is Puttanesca? | Ingredients & Substitutions | Spaghetti Squash vs Pasta |

Bowl of Italian puttanesca sauce on a bed of spaghetti squash.
Puttanesca sauce on a bed of spaghetti squash

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What is Puttanesca?

Puttanesca is usually associated with Naples as its place of origin. The term itself translates roughly to “lady of the night.” (aka prostitute), and some say therefore that the dish originated in the brothels of the Spanish Quarters.

Others claim it was invented in the 1950s at a famous Ischia restaurant (Rancio Fellone) late at night to satisfy a group of customers who complained that they were hungry.

They supposedly told the co-owner (Annarita Cuomo) to just make something simple with whatever he had left over that night.

The co-owner had some tomatoes, olives and capers which ended up forming the base of a sauce that became quite popular in the restaurant.

From this story, puttanesca came to be referenced all over Italy as a pasta sauce that was easy to cook, without frills or complicated preparation.

It’s made by combining anchovies, capers, olives, and optional ingredients like garlic, red pepper flakes, chile peppers, and tomatoes into a truly tasty gravy.

The dish itself was considered a humble dish, made with common cupboard ingredients.

Key Puttanesca Ingredients

The dish itself was considered a humble dish, made with common cupboard ingredients. The sauce is typically made by combining anchovies, capers, olives, and optional ingredients like garlic, red pepper flakes, chile peppers, and tomatoes into a robustly flavored gravy.

Within the different regions of Italy, a Sicilian version of this sauce has green peppers and one from Palermo has anchovies, raisins and olives. The most famous Neopolitan version has anchovies and oregano.

The base however is most often the same, with bold, salty ingredients of olives, capers, tomatoes and garlic.

Pasta Puttanesca Pugliese with Tomatoes

For all things Italian my first inclination is to go to Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s recipes, so I went back to one of her earlier cookbooks that focused on Italy’s Farmhouse Kitchens, The Italian Country Table

A recipe for a vibrant, spicy “streetwalkers pasta” (aka prostitutes’ pasta) sounded like a good starting place.

Kasper’s dish was called “Pasta Puttanesca Pugliese” and it sounded great but it was more of a fresh raw dish and I was looking for a warm cooked recipe. Her recipe was easy to modify and it turned out wonderful.

Since the ingredients were so robust, I decided they could handle the additional boldness of smoked tomatoes. The intense smokiness of the tomatoes paired well with the salty umami from anchovy fillets, black olives, and Romano cheese. 

Hard to go wrong with those ingredients.  It did my smoked heirloom tomatoes proud. If you want to get the smoky tomato flavor in your dish, try this smoked tomato vinegar.

Spaghetti Squash for the Pasta

Cooked spaghetti squash with fork pulling out the strands.
Cooked spaghetti squash

Now of course pasta is not low carb and this rich tomato sauce needs a bed of some sort of “noodle” to soak up all the goodness and give it some “chew”.

There are zucchini noodles and other alternatives available for low carbers, but I prefer spaghetti squash.

Using spaghetti squash as a bed of noodles allows a mild medium that won’t distract from the puttanesca sauce, but still has enough heft to add the desired texture. The slight squash flavor is a nice addition also.

Spaghetti squash also makes a great side dish and pairs perfectly with this pork ragu. Or try it using the shells as a bowl for this low carb lasagna or this low carb chicken enchilada.

I made a non-low-carb version using penne noodles, just to test the difference. It was good, but I actually preferred the spaghetti noodles. Here is what it looked like with penne.

Italian Puttanesca dinner with penne pasta
Italian Puttanesca dinner with penne pasta

I see Mark Bittman also includes a version of puttanesca in his “How to Cook Everything“ book, but it does not include anchovies. 

Alternatives to Using Smoked Tomatoes

This dish is excellent with regular tomatoes, so don’t feel that you need to purchase smoked tomatoes or smoke your own. It was just a twist I wanted to try.

If you do want the smoky tomato flavor you can also purchase a Smoked Tomato Vinegar (aka shrub) from our store. Just a 1/4 cup of this smoky tomato vinegar will enhance the Puttanesca.

Recipe for Puttanesca with Spaghetti Squash

Low carb Italian Puttanesca

Bowl of Italian puttanesca sauce on a bed of spaghetti squash.
This is a low carb version of the Italian dish of Puttanesca which is a rich tomato based dish with anchovies, olives, capers and spices generally served with pasta. This recipe uses spaghetti squash as the bed for this bold, rich Puttanesca.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings 5
Calories 229



  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves tightly packed
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp coarse salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 28 oz peeled, plum tomatoes
  • 2 fresh tomatoes if available
  • 2 tsp anchovy paste or two anchovy filets, chopped
  • ½ cup olives pitted & coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp capers
  • 3 tsp smoked tomato vinegar alternatively use 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 spaghetti squash If not low carb, use 1 lb of pasta of your choice
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese grated (can use Romano cheese)


  • With a sharp knife, mince together the basil, garlic, and hot pepper flakes with the coarse salt and set aside (Alternatively, mash together with a mortar and pestle)
    1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, 1 tsp red pepper flakes, 3 cloves garlic, 1 tsp coarse salt
  • In a large skillet or dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until soft and lightly caramelized, about 6- 10 minutes.
    Add the garlic-herb mix and cook an additional 2 minutes.
    Add the tomatoes and the remaining 6 ingredients through the pepper and simmer until the sauce is thickened and slightly reduced (about 15 – 20 minutes). This can simmer while baking the spaghetti squash (or cooking the pasta).
    2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 medium onion, 28 oz peeled, plum tomatoes, 2 fresh tomatoes, 2 tsp anchovy paste, 1/2 cup olives, 2 Tbsp capers, 3 tsp smoked tomato vinegar, 1 Tbsp tomato paste, 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Bake the spaghetti squash in the oven for about an hour at 375 F. Using a fork, remove the strands of squash.
    If using pasta instead of squash: Cook the pasta in rapidly boiling water, stirring often, until there is no raw flour taste (about 7-10 minutes for penne). Drain the pasta if using pasta
    1 spaghetti squash
  • Put the spaghetti squash strands (or the drained pasta) in a large pot and place over medium heat. Spoon most of the Puttanesca sauce into the pot and cook a few minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.
  • Taste for seasoning, and garnish with some chopped basil and grated parmesan or romano cheese and serve. Place small bowls of extra sauce, and extra cheese to pass around for individual tastes.
    1/2 cup Parmesan cheese


Low Carb Puttanesca on a bed of Spaghetti Squash - A Cooking Tutorial
Watch this video on YouTube.
Watch the Step by Step Video for More Details


Calories: 229kcalCarbohydrates: 26gProtein: 8gFat: 12gFiber: 7gSugar: 12gIron: 2mg
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[…] Of course, tomato sauce is a classic use of end-of-the-season tomatoes, and it freezes well. For the recipe for a bold, robust tomato sauce called Puttanesca, click here. […]

jill christensen

Saturday 17th of May 2014

I have a stovetop smoker. What wood do you use?

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Monday 19th of May 2014

Jill, I have a smoker that uses wood pellets and I usuallly use hickory because I like that profile, but go wild with any hardwood and it will be good.

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[...] Korean beef rib tacos (above); Osso Buco; ham and cheese pull-apart bread; karahi lentil soup; pasta puttanesca with smoked tomatoes; socca with squash, kale and Italian sausage; lemongrass and corn soup and pozole [...]

Dorothy Stainbrook

Friday 11th of January 2013

I'm surely going to have to smoke some more tomatoes this made a huge flavor difference. Seems puttanesca has a legend regarding prostitutes surrounding it!

Cyndy Crist

Thursday 10th of January 2013

I've made pasta puttanesca a number of times. One recipe I've used has you "cook" the sauce in the hot summer sun. I don't remember the details, but it's a good and easy way to make it when local tomatoes, basil, etc., are at their best. Using smoked tomatoes sounds yummy!

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