Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pasta Puttanesca with Seasoned Ground Tempeh

Some nights you just need something quick and easy – everyone has a favorite go-to pasta with tomato sauce dish, right? Maybe the sauce comes from a jar; maybe it’s not even a sauce but just some chopped tomatoes with basil. Most of us refer to pasta when the hour is too late for a grand feast or when there is not enough time to prepare one. In our case last night, it was much to late for anything complicated and we were much to hungry for just chips and salsa.

In my younger omnivore years, we usually pulled out the Ragu and some ground beef to throw on top of spaghetti. I remember coming home from soccer practice really not wanting to wait for food and even waiting for the meat to cook was too time consuming. This was very much the sentiment when we got home last night from the first official volleyball match of spring followed by a beer to welcome the season (I’m in the fan club though I prefer the unofficial coach title). With only rutabaga and beets for exciting vegetables in the fridge, even I wasn’t really feeling the bulbous vibe at 9:30pm. I wanted to save those for a more intentional, playful meal. Referring to my sweaty, sandy, and hungry volley baller, he echoed my exact memories of coming home from games….how about some pasta? Sounds good. I had an open can of diced tomatoes to use up and a fresh package of tempeh.

When I think of traditional red pasta sauce, Bolognese comes to mind. This version is what we all typically think of when we see a red sauce with ground meat. When I think of a less traditional sauce but that can be made in a flash with tons of flavor, I think Puttanesca. Less familiar in the American crowd, it is devilishly delicious and takes hardly any time to prepare. Puttanesca is derived from the Italian word for whore (I’m not making this up) and is suspected of being name so for its enticing aroma – sounds like a G rated version of some saucy story, but who knows. Core ingredients in the classic recipe include onions, garlic, olives, capers and anchovies. With just a few herbs to top it off, this is a salty and sinful treat. Of course I unapologetically skip the anchovies, which doesn’t seem to harm its flavor. Instead of choosing, I decided on a Puttanesca flavor base with ground tempeh to get the feel of one and flavor of the other.

Just a quick note about cooking tempeh: when you buy tempeh raw from the store, it needs to be steamed or boiled to loosen it up before cooking. This will allow it to absorb flavor well and will keep it from becoming too tough when pan fried. I combine the loosening and flavoring in one step rather than steaming it first like most recipes suggest. The texture and flavor of the tempeh held remarkably well after browning it for a while. It gave just the right amount of herbal flare to the sauce which could even stand for some fresh parsley or oregano to top it off, though I didn’t have any at the time. I’m sure adding a dash of red wine vinegar would be positively wonderful as well.

Pasta Puttanesca with Seasoned Ground Tempeh
Makes 2-3 servings
Cook time: 30 minutes


5-6 oz. Whole wheat or gluten-free spaghetti

For the Tempeh
2 c. Water
1 tsp Basil, dried
¾ tsp Garlic powder
½ tsp Fennel seed
½ tsp Thyme, dried
½ tsp Onion powder
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Crushed red pepper
½ package plain Tempeh, cubed
1 T Olive or canola oil

For the Sauce
½ T Olive oil, divided
¼ Medium onion, chopped
1 Medium celery stalk, chopped
1 Large clove garlic (½ T)
4 Kalamata olives, chopped
1 T Capers
1/8 tsp. Crushed red pepper
1 ½ c. Diced tomatoes, canned in juice
Fresh parsley or oregano, chopped


Cook pasta according to directions on package. Set aside.

For the Tempeh
Combine all tempeh ingredients and bring to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Slight reduce heat to medium high and maintain rigorous boil until half of liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Drain tempeh reserving liquid and transfer to food processor. Pulse a few times until tempeh is coarsely ground. Heat olive oil over medium high heat and add tempeh. Cook until brown, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking to pan. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the Sauce
Heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions and celery until translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic, olives, capers and red pepper. Cook an additional minute or until garlic becomes very fragrant. Stir in tomatoes and remaining cooking liquid from tempeh. Lower heat and simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Taste the sauce and add additional pepper to your liking. While simmering, remove 1 cup of sauce and transfer to food processor. Puree until completely smooth and return mixture to sauce. Stir in tempeh and adjust salt and/or pepper if necessary. Ladle sauce over noodles and enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment