Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta

Jump to Recipe
This 9-Ingredient Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta is bursting with umami from quick-caramelized onions, tomato paste, sundried tomatoes, and a handful of other pantry staples. Easy enough for weeknight dinners and loved by vegans and omnivores alike!
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 40 mins
Total Time: 50 mins

Guys, I found a new pasta recipe that I can’t stop making/eating. Seriously, I’ve made this recipe five times in the last two-ish weeks. Max, aka Mr. Rainbow Plant Life, won’t stop asking me to make it. And I get it – it’s really freakin delicious.

This Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta was adapted from Alison Roman’s Caramelized Shallot Pasta. Her version looks legit delicious but it has anchovies, so I wanted to devise a vegan version that would be just as flavorful and umami-packed. Given how many times my non-vegan partner has asked for this recipe, I think it’s been a successful adaptation.

The post has pretty detailed instructions on how to make this recipe, but if you want a visual (always helpful IMO), check out this video on easy but delicious vegan pantry meals! The pasta recipe begins around the 3:34 mark.

Why you’re going to like this recipe 

9 main ingredients. Okay, not counting water, oil, salt and pepper. But yeah, just 9 main ingredients, woohoo!

Pantry staples. And all those ingredients are pantry staples (i.e., you might already have all the required ingredients in your pantry).

Weeknight-friendly. It takes 40-45 minutes to make, from start to finish, including all the prep time.

But fancy pants. Despite being easy and made with less than 10 ingredients, this pasta tastes like bougie Italian restaurant fare, so it’s fancy (and delicious) enough to serve at a dinner party.

Italian comfort food heaven. If I had an Italian nonna, I imagine this is the food she would make me. Each bite is more slurpable and more delicious than the next. The recipe says “3 servings” but I could easily eat this entire meal myself. Yes, I can eat 10 ounces of pasta.

Umami explosion. This pasta is an umami-lover’s dream come true. More on that below.

Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta

Ingredient Rundown

This ingredient rundown is basically a way for me to count the ways in which this vegan caramelized onion pasta delivers on its promise of being an umami explosion.

1. Caramelized onions. When you caramelize onions, you’re witnessing the Maillard reaction, which is a chemical reaction that happens when certain food is heated. Amino acids and reducing sugars react, resulting in the food browning, whether it’s through grilling vegetables or caramelizing onions. And this reaction results in a meaty flavor and savory mouthfeel, aka umami!

Tip: Slice your onions very thinly and try to get them evenly sliced as you can. No need to break out the mandoline (unless it’s handy and easy to use), but no sloppy rough slicing either. More tips on caramelizing onions are in the next section.

2. Tomato paste. Tomato paste packs in an umami punch with its bold, concentrated tomato-y flavor. But we’re not treating tomato paste as it’s often treated – simply stirred into a soup or sauce at the end as an afterthought.

No, no, no. We’re cooking it down after the onions are caramelized, essentially caramelizing the tomato paste itself. This unlocks the full potential of the tomato paste and brings forth its boldest flavor. Think of it almost as if you would think of sautéing aromatics – it’s another opportunity to layer in some flavor.

Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta

3. Tamari. Also brings those glutamate-y, umami flavors, along with saltiness. I usually use reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce, but this is a recipe where the bold, salty flavor of regular tamari/soy sauce works well. Aside from seasoning the onions with salt at the start of cooking, there’s no need for more salt thanks to the tamari.

4. Nutritional Yeast. Your vegan source of subtle cheesy, umami notes.

5. Sundried Tomatoes. One of my actual favorite foods that I do not utilize enough. They bring the most delightful chewy texture, and a salty-yet-slightly-sweet flavor. I recommend using olive oil-packed sundried tomatoes because I think they’re more flavorful than the dry packaged ones and they work really well in this recipe.

Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta

Tips for making Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta

1. Caramelizing onions at high heat. Typically, caramelized onions are cooked over low heat to prevent burning. But, that can take up to an hour, and given that this is a “pantry meal,” I assume you don’t want to spend an hour caramelizing onions.

So we’re caramelizing the onions somewhere between medium-high and high heat. Every stove is different, so that’s why I give the range. Please use your eyes as you go to adjust the heat as needed.

The trick to caramelizing onions at a higher heat is to deglaze the pan every couple minutes with a few spoons of water. If you skip this step, the onions will burn and you will be left with blackened, burned onions, not gooey, sticky browned onions.

After heating the olive oil, add the thinly sliced onions and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until some fond starts to appear. Fond is basically the browned bits that stick to the bottom of the pan. That’s when you start deglazing the pan with water – just a few spoons at a time. Stir frequently, and continue deglazing in this manner every few minutes.

After about 15 minutes, the onions should be deeply golden brown. That’s when you lower the add the thinly sliced garlic cloves (I lower the heat to medium to prevent burning). After another 5-10 minutes of stirring and deglazing, the onions will be fully caramelized and the garlic will be golden and soft.

Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta

2. Use all of the tomato paste. An entire tube of tomato paste sounds like a lot, but (1) it’s what brings the sauce together (there’s no tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, etc.); and (2) everyone’s always wondering what to do with a leftover tube of tomato paste…well know you don’t have to worry about that!

As mentioned in the previous section, make sure you cook the tomato paste for a few minutes until it turns darker in color – this caramelization is what unlocks the deepest tomato flavor.

3. How to time this recipe. Add the pasta to your boiling salted water when you add the garlic to the onions. Depending on the cook time of your pasta, the tomato-y caramelized onions should be done around the same time as the pasta.

4. Reserve the pasta water. Before you drain the pasta, save some of that cooking water. For one, the pasta leeches some of its starch into the cooking water, so it’s starchy. And two, since the water has been salted, it’s a bit flavorful. Adding some of this starchy, salty water to the tomato-y caramelized onions will help thin it out enough into a sauce.

5. Make it heartier. If pasta doesn’t seem like a complete meal too you, make it heartier by adding some cooked or canned cannellini beans at the end. And my favorite toppings are toasted pine nuts, which add this lovely buttery crunch, and freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley for some freshness.

I recommend reserving at least 1 cup of the water. I typically use ¾ – 1 cup of cooking water, but just add as much as you need to coat the sauce onto all of the noodles. This is not a saucy pasta – it’s more of a rough, chunky tapenade so you don’t want to thin it out to the point of marinara sauce.

A pair of tongs is very helpful to help twirl the noodles and coat the sauce onto each noodle.

Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta

If you give this recipe a try, be sure to tag me on Instagram with your recreations and please comment with your feedback below.

Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta

5 from 9 votes
This 9-Ingredient Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta is bursting with umami from quick-caramelized onions, tomato paste, sundried tomatoes, and a handful of other pantry staples. Easy enough for weeknight dinners and loved by vegans and omnivores alike!
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 40 mins
Total Time: 50 mins
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: Indian-Inspired
Keyword: nut-free, pasta, vegan
Serving size: 3

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, very thinly sliced
  • Water to deglaze the pan
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt or sea salt to taste
  • Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 5 ounces (140-150g) tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 4 - 5 large oil-packed sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 10 ounces (285g) spaghetti or linguine (can use gluten-free)

Optional garnishes

  • Toasted pine nuts; chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley

Instructions

  • Heat a 12-inch skillet or Dutch oven somewhere between medium-high and high heat. Add the olive oil, and once it’s hot, add the thinly sliced onions and season with salt and pepper. Stir frequently and cook the onions until a light brown fond starts form on the surface of the pan, about 5 minutes. Add a few spoons of water to deglaze the pan. Continue cooking the onions, adding more water every few minutes and stirring frequently to prevent burning, until they’re deeply golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the sliced garlic cloves. Stir frequently, adding water as needed to deglaze. Cook for another 5-10 minutes until the onions are fully caramelized and the garlic is golden and soft.
  • Add the red pepper flakes and oregano, and stir to coat the onions, about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and stir constantly, or until the paste has caramelized and become darker, 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the tamari, nutritional yeast, and chopped sundried tomatoes and stir to combine. Turn the heat to low.
  • Ladle a few spoons of the reserved pasta water into the caramelized onions. Then transfer the hot cooked pasta to the onions. Use a pair of tongs to swirl the pasta into the sauce, adding more pasta water as needed (I usually add ¾-1 cup) until you can coat all of the noodles in the tomato-y sauce. This whole process usually takes 3-4 minutes.
  • If desired, garnish with pine nuts and chopped parsley. Leftovers stay good in an airtight container for 2-3 days.

Did you make this recipe?

Tag @rainbowplantlife and hashtag it #rainbowplantlife

Leave a Comment & Rating

If you enjoyed this recipe, please consider giving it a star rating along with your comment! It helps others discover my blog and recipes, and your comments always make my day :) Thank you for your support!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Rate this recipe




31 comments on Vegan Caramelized Onion Pasta

  1. Gillian

    This was so delicious! I definitely will be making this one again. I loved making something so good from what I already had on hand.

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Gillian, so nice to hear that you loved it. I love being able to make it whenever I want because I usually have all the ingredients too!

  2. Kendal

    This sounds delicious and I have leftover cooked noodles with no plan. I don’t have sun dried tomatoes though, do you think that’s a make or break for this recipe?

    1. Nisha Vora

      I would say they’re a very delicious part of the recipe, but you can probably make them without it!

    2. Lorena

      I just made it without the sun dried tomatoes and it was delicious! 😄

      1. Nisha Vora

        So nice to hear that, Lorena! Thank you for sharing :)

  3. Such a delicious and simple recipe to make, especially during quarantine/with pantry staples. Fun fact, the squeeze tubes of tomato paste are 4.6 ounces so juuust enough for this recipe. I made it with the sun dried tomato and cannellini beans but I think with some good olives and acid/wine, this could taste very puttanesca as well. Also how have I never put soy sauce in my tomato sauce before?!

  4. Katie Gilbert

    Delicious!! Been looking forward to making this since your video. Totally worth the wait. This is company worth y’all! I’ll be making this time and time again ☺️

  5. Sammmmmmmmm

    Hi! I only have canned tomato paste. Will that work?

    1. Nisha Vora

      Absolutely, it’s the same thing :) A standard tube has slightly less tomato paste, about 5.3 ounces, than a can (usually 6 ounces), so I’d just use the whole can.

      1. Sammmmmmm

        Thank you!Ummmmm…I guess I’m making this for the 2nd time in a weekish???? BECAUSE IT’S THAT GOOD 😋Didn’t make any subs except the sundried tomatoes I have on hand are dry, so I soaked them in olive oil beforehand. As it’s just myself, I plan to store the sauce separately, rather than combining it all at once going forward. I think combining it, but not finishing it in one sitting, tends to dry it out over a few days.Thank you for the super yummy and thoughtful recipe!

  6. Two of the hubs’ favorites (onions, pasta) in one dish is what drew my attention, that and the fact that I had everything needed. Though I had high hopes, I’m often underwhelmed when bloggers rave about how good said recipe is/how may times they eat it, etc. Well, I just finished making this, and I seriously can NOT stop eating straight out of the pan! Holy smokes, this is so good!! I sure hope there’s some left for him to try it😉

  7. Elyse

    This pasta is amazing. We have yet to find one of your recipes we don’t love, but this one is particularly great. So easy and perfect for a night stuck in shelter-in-place. Thank you for sharing in a much needed time!

  8. Moe

    HI Nisha,I love your blog and cookbook. I made this last night and it was so good. I used smoked sun dried tomatoes and it was delicious. I will be making your red lentil dal this week. Do you have a print-friendly option on your blog for recipes? I usually have to cut and paste. Thanks for the inspiring videos, too!

  9. Wendi

    I was craving a nice, comforting bowl of spaghetti for dinner last night and this recipe was exactly what I needed! This is a keeper, and I loved the tip for quick caramelized onions! They turned out perfectly. 5 stars

  10. Melanie

    My son and I are trying out new recipes while in quarantine! We made this recipe earlier this week. Next time we’ll skip the red pepper flakes (too hot for me, lol). I think we need to add more water at the end as ours was pretty thick. Will make again!

    1. Nisha Vora

      That’s so nice you both are experimenting with new recipes :) Haha, yes I should update the instructions to include a range for the red pepper flakes. The sauce should be quite thick (it’s not really a sauce so much as a jammy coating for the pasta), but adding more pasta water should help get you to your desired texture!

  11. Milena Basta

    Turned out amazing! My husband said at the end of the meal, "flag that one!" Thank you🙏

  12. Puja

    I tried this today and it was delicious! I had to make a lot of changes because I’m trying to limit trips to the grocery store, so I wanted to share how adaptable this recipe is. I used red onions because that’s all I had, cavatappi instead of spaghetti, and had no sun dried tomatoes. I’m vegetarian, but not vegan, so I used parmesan cheese in lieu of the nutritional yeast. It turned out amazing! I can’t wait to try it with sun dried tomatoes next time. Thanks for a yummy recipe!

  13. Isidora Etxenike

    I have made this recipe two times since the lockdown and is absolutely delicious, very simple and so tasty! Five stars recipe for sure ;) Thank you Nisha

    1. Nisha Vora

      Hi Isidora, I am so happy this recipe has been a hit during these strange times. Thank you for the 5-star rating and review :) Be safe and well!

  14. Heidi

    Wow! Just made this and love, love, love!! Third recipe of yours I’ve made since this whole quarantine. All have been huge hits! Thank you!!

  15. Anna Lisa

    Started making this dish in the first week of lockdown (I was looking for an easy but satisfying pasta recipe) and I cook it weekly by now. It’s so delicious and flavorfull! If you’re having a bad day, I highly recommend cooking it ;) Thank you for the recipe Nisha!

  16. Marquel Hayes

    I just finished making this recipe and it’s amazing!!!! Everyone in my house loves it. My mom doesn’t like spicy food but she ate through the spicy anyway haha. It’s now a favorite next to the buffalo chickpea quesadillas :)

  17. Lori Othen

    I am kicking myself for not making this recipe sooner. It really is OMG Good and Nisha is right my non-vegan husband loves it. He also loves the sweet potato curry so this is now two night of guaranteed healthy vegan fair in our house! You have also helped me to do meal prep for the first time so I always have healthy go to lunches and snacks in the fridge. I have never done meal prep before because I don’t like to eat the same thing every day. Thank you for your awesome recipes and sharing your wonderful presence on youtube.

  18. Lynn Dcruz

    5 stars
    This was sooo delish! It’s sooo versatile to make as you literally have all these ingredients in your pantry ! Nisha shares the most amazing flavourful and authentic recipes that are sooo easy to follow. ❤️

  19. Payal

    5 stars
    So savory and delicious and perfect for a quick dinner that didn’t send me out to the super market to grab ingredients. Thank you, nisha!

  20. Elizabeth W.

    5 stars
    This was such a simple dish that tasted so good! I was a little nervous at first about the quick-caramelization method (worried I would burn something) but it worked perfectly. I would say definitely start slow when adding the pasta water in at the end, but you’ll probably end up using more than you think you need to get to that saucier consistency.

  21. Lisa

    5 stars
    Amazon

    1. Lisa

      Amazing *

Development Alchemy + Aim