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recipe: Vegan Orzo Puttanesca

Updated: May 30

This firm family favourite began life as an Ottolenghi recipe, but we’ve modified somewhat over the years as well as making it vegan by replacing the tuna, anchovies and parmesan of the original dish with tofu, porcini and nutritional yeast, respectively.

Serves 5 or 6

Pan containing vegan orzo puttanesca

Ingredients: Olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

Garlic, about 6 cloves, crushed

Fresh basil leaves

Chilli flakes

Dried porcini mushrooms (about 30g)

Block of tofu, chopped into small pieces

Small jar of capers (or a couple of tablespoons)

Preserved lemons (1 or 2), finely sliced

Pitted black olives (about 100g), sliced in half

1 teaspoon of tomato paste

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

250g orzo

Salt and pepper

2-3 plum tomatoes, sliced into thick rounds

Nutritional yeast (about 3 teaspoons)


Heat the oven up to 180 degrees C. Boil the kettle.

Tip the dried porcini into a small bowl or large mug, and top up with the hot water so that they are completely covered. Place a small saucer or similar over the top to keep the porcini as submerged as possible.

Heat some olive oil in a large oven-proof pan, add the onions and gently cook until softened. Add the garlic and some shredded basil leaves and cook a little more. Sprinkle on the chilli flakes, according to taste. (We use one and half teaspoons of Aleppo chilli, but use however much you like.) Stir, and then add the chopped tofu, making sure as much of the tofu touches the pan as possible and allow to fry a little. Keep everything gently moving around whilst you add the drained capers, preserved lemon, two thirds of the olives, a squirt of tomato paste, and the chopped tomatoes.

Drain the porcini but keep the water. Slice up any pieces that seem to be especially large and then toss them all into the pan.

Add the orzo to the pan and stir through so that it is coated with the flavours from all the other ingredients. Pour the porcini water into a measuring jug and top up to 450ml with the remaining hot water from the kettle. Pour it into the pan, add a generous amount of salt and pepper to taste, add some more basil and stir it all together, making sure nothing is sticking the bottom of the pan.

Put a lid on the pan and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the orzo is cooked.

(While it’s cooking you can slice up the plum tomatoes, and the remainder of the olives if you haven’t already done so.)

Take the pan from the oven and turn up the heat to 200 degrees C. Remove the lid and give the contents a good stir, loosening any bits that may be stuck to the bottom. If it seems a bit dry at this point, you can add a little more water and stir it through. Arrange the tomatoes in an even layer over the top and scatter over the remaining olives. Sprinkle a generous amount of nutritional yeast over the tomatoes then return the pan to the oven, without the lid, for a further 10 minutes.

When the tomatoes are just starting to colour up, and everything is bubbling nicely, remove the pan from the oven and leave to cool down for a moment or two. Then arrange any remaining basil leaves attractively over the top and serve.

Any left-overs are excellent for lunch the following day!

Do let us know in the comments if you try this recipe, and tell us what you thought.

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