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Low Carb Italian Puttanesca on Spaghetti Squash

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

Italian Puttanesca is a bold, robust sauce with tomatoes, capers, olives, and garlic which is typically served as a sauce for pasta. If you substitute in spaghetti squash for the pasta you have a low carb Puttanesca main dish that rivals the original (vegetarian also if you omit the anchovies).

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

Jump to: RECIPE | History of Puttanesca | Key Ingredients | Spaghetti Squash vs Pasta

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History of 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 (Sandro Petti) 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.

Key Puttanesca Ingredients

Puttanesca was considered a humble dish, made with common Italian pantry 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 or sauce.

Ingredients for Italian puttanesca sauce
Ingredients for Italian puttanesca sauce

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.

Italian puttanesca with pasta in a bowl served cold.
Puttanesca as a cold dish

Since the ingredients were so robust, I decided they could handle the additional boldness of a smoked tomato vinegar that I make on our farm. The intense smokiness of the tomatoes paired well with the salty umami from anchovy fillets, black olives, and Parmesan cheese. 

I also made it using non-smoked tomatoes and a red wine vinegar, which resulted in version with a brighter flavor.

If you are interested in making your own tomato shrub check out this recipe for a shrub syrup.

Spaghetti Squash for the Low Carb Recipe

Now of course the typical pasta served with puttanesca is not low carb and this rich sauce needs a bed or 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 carb substitutes, 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.

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

Spaghetti squash also makes a great side dish for other low carb main dishes, like this pork ragu. Or try it using the squash shells as a bowl for this low carb lasagna or this low carb chicken enchilada.

I also 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 (better photo but less tasty).

Puttanesca with smoked tomato sauce over penne pasta.
Puttanesca over 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. 

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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 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 28 ounces canned peeled, plum tomatoes I love Italian San Marzano canned tomoatoes
  • 2 fresh tomatoes if available
  • 2 teaspoon anchovy paste or two anchovy filets, chopped
  • ½ cup olives pitted & coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 3 teaspoon red wine vinegar or a homemade tomato vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon 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 – Pecorino is my favorite)


  • 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 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 3 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon 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 ground 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 tablespoons olive oil, 1 medium onion, 28 ounces canned peeled, plum tomatoes, 2 fresh tomatoes, 2 teaspoon anchovy paste, 1/2 cup olives, 2 tablespoons capers, 3 teaspoon red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 1 teaspoon 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 Pecorino 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


Another outstanding recipe that uses puttanesca are these pork chops with puttanesca sauce.


Calories: 229kcalCarbohydrates: 26gProtein: 8gFat: 12gFiber: 7gSugar: 12gIron: 2mg
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  1. Cyndy Crist says:

    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!

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

  3. […] 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 […]

  4. jill christensen says:

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

  5. […] 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. […]

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