This harissa pasta recipe is made with a creamy, North African pepper based sauce that comes together in 30 minutes. It’s a flavor packed weeknight meal that’s perfect for pairing with your favorite protein. Plus, you can easily adjust the spice level by adjusting the quantity of harissa used.

harissa pasta in a bowl

Why You Will Love This Pasta

If you’ve explored North African and/or Moroccan cuisine, chances are you’ve tried harissa.

This sauce is usually made with a blend of peppers (both sweet & spicy), garlic, spices, oil, and some form of acidity (usually vinegar or preserved lemons).

It’s the perfect base for marinades (like these harissa chicken thighs), dressings, and sauces, like the harissa pasta sauce we’re making today! Think of it as a vodka pasta, with a smokier, deeper flavor profile.

harissa pasta in a bowl

Ingredients

Here’s your grocery list for this recipe:

  • olive oil
  • yellow onion, minced
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • harissa paste
  • heavy cream
  • fresh basil
  • fresh parsley
  • salt & pepper to taste, plus additional salt for the pasta water
  • pasta
  • optional: parmesan cheese for garnish

See recipe card for quantities.

bowls of cream, harissa, herbs, and more

Step by Step Instructions

Tip: Add a cup of cooked chickpeas to the pan with the onions for an easy protein boost!

What to Eat it With

I like serving this harissa pasta with a protein & fresh salads. Here are some ideas:

I also like adding a can of chickpeas into the sauce with the onion for an easy protein boost when I don’t have the time or energy to make a separate protein.

harissa pasta sauce in a pan

Easy Substitutions

Like many pasta dishes, this harissa pasta is easy to adapt. Here are some of my favorite add ins to boost the flavors:

  • Plant Based Cream – Keep in mind you can use a plant based cream or coconut milk instead of the heavy cream to keep things vegan. You can also skip the parmesan cheese.
  • Sausage – Try browning some sausage in the pan with the onions and cooking fully to add a lot of flavor & protein.
  • Mushrooms – Instead of sausage, try some chopped mushrooms for a delicious umami taste.
  • Spinach – Add some spinach with the cream to add some additional greens to the mix.

Also see the note in the recipe card about using chickpeas as a simple add in!

harissa pasta in a bowl

Spice Level Variations

Spicy food isn’t for everyone, and thankfully it’s super easy to adjust the spice level in this harissa pasta.

The initial spice level of this dish will vary depending on the brand of harissa you use, or the type of chili peppers you use if making it from scratch.

I recommend tasting your harissa first, then making adjusting the quantity you use in your sauce accordingly.

Here are some more specific instructions:

  • ¼ cup – This will keep things pretty tame, but feel free to use just 1 teaspoon if you’re really worried about too much heat.
  • ½ cup – This gives the dish a more medium level of spice.
  • 1 cup – This is the amount I use in this recipe, and I love the level of flavor it provides in the end result. I do love spicy food though, so feel free to adjust accordingly!

Keep in mind that you can also increase the amount of cream you use in the sauce to tame the spice.

harissa pasta in a bowl

Storage

I don’t know if I’m the only one that feels this way, but I love leftover pasta. Something about this sauce in particular reheats really well as it seems to deepen in flavor over time.

That said, properly storing leftover pasta is important. Make sure to store in an air tight container in the fridge. This should keep for up to 3 days.

Bismillah,

Salima written in cursive
Print
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harissa pasta in a bowl

30-Minute Creamy Harissa Pasta

  • Author: Salima Benkhalti
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x
  • Category: Entree, Dinner, Lunch
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Moroccan, North African
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

This harissa pasta recipe is made with a creamy, North African pepper based sauce that comes together in 30 minutes. It’s a flavor packed weeknight meal that’s perfect for pairing with your favorite protein. Plus, you can easily adjust the spice level by adjusting the quantity of harissa used.


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup harissa paste
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped + more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped + more for garnish
  • salt & pepper to taste, plus additional salt for the pasta water
  • 16 oz pasta
  • Optional: 2 tbsp parmesan cheese


Instructions

  1. Sauté the alliums. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat before adding the onion. Sauté until translucent before adding the garlic and cooking until fragrant.
  2. Heat the pasta water. While the alliums cook, salt 10 cups of water & bring to a boil in a stockpot.
  3. Add the harissa to the sauce. Add the harissa to the pan with the alliums, mixing to combine everything & bring to a simmer.
  4. Add the cream & herbs. Add the cream to the sauté pan and mix in to combine. Sprinkle in the basil and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Cook the pasta. Add the pasta to the pot of water and cook according to package instructions. Once the pasta is almost done, add ½ cup of the starchy pasta water to the harissa sauce and mix well.
  6. Finish the pasta. Add the pasta to the sauce in the pan and top with parmesan cheese (optional) & additional herbs. Serve & enjoy!

Notes

Easy Protein Tip: Add a cup of cooked chickpeas to the pan with the onions for an easy protein boost!

Plant Based Cream: Keep in mind you can use a plant based cream or coconut milk instead of the heavy cream to keep things vegan.

Keywords: harissa pasta