This spicy vegan polenta puttanesca is made with pan-fried slabs of polenta, layered with tofu ricotta and smothered in spicy tomato sauce.
This was one of my favorite pub dishes when I lived in Philadelphia. Yes, a pub dish. I was blessed to have lots of places in the neighborhood that offered not just a veggie burger or two, but all kinds of creative and delicious vegan and vegetarian options. Polenta puttanesca was my favorite.
I’ve already talked a bit about the amazingness that is tofu ricotta. Even after I’d made the stuff myself, when I first ordered this dish out I had to repeatedly ask the server “Really? This can’t be vegan.” It felt so rich, even more so than in other tofu ricotta dishes I’d had, and then being buried under heaps of spicy puttanesca sauce…I never would have guessed I was eating tofu. Now that I’ve made it myself, I finally believe it.
What makes this dish even more scrumptious is the puttanesca sauce. This part of the dish was new to me. When I ordered polenta puttanesca while eating out, it came with a super flavorful, extra spicy red sauce. I didn’t really think much of it (other than “yum”), and actually assumed puttanesca was like regular old red sauce and the cook at my local pub was really into spice.
As it turned out, puttanesca is more of an amped up red sauce, containing capers, Kalamata olives, red pepper flakes and lots of garlic. If you’re that person at the table who is known for dumping hot sauce on everything, puttanesca might just be your red sauce of choice. It just became mine.
Vegan Polenta Puttanesca
For the Puttanesca Sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup pitted Kalmata olives, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced
For the Tofu Ricotta
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 pound firm or extra firm tofu, drained
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/4 cup unflavored, unsweetened non-dairy milk
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
For the Polenta
- 1 roll prepared polenta (18 oz.)
- Cooking spray or a few dashes of oil
Prepare the Sauce
- Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with oil and place it over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and transclucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute, until very fragrant.
- Add all of the remaining sauce ingredients except for the basil. Stir and allow to simmer, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the tofu ricotta and polenta.
- Stir the basil into the sauce just before serving.
Prepare the Tofu Ricotta
- Place onion, garlic, tofu, lemon, milk, salt, pepper and parsley into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the mixture is until well blended and has a ricotta-like texture, making sure to stop before it gets smooth.
Prepare the Polenta
- Slice the polenta into 1/2 inch slabs.
- Spray or coat a large nonstick skillet with oil and place it over medium heat.
- Arrange the polenta slabs in the skillet and cook until the bottoms begin to crisp up and brown, about 5 minutes. Flip and repeat on other side.
Assemble the Polenta Puttanesca
- Starting with a slice of polenta, create alternating layers of polenta and tofu ricotta on four plates, dividing the ingredients evenly.
- After layering, ladle sauce generously over each stack. Serve.