This easy harissa pasta recipe is spicy, creamy, and ready in under twenty minutes! A no-fuss quick dinner with a surprising depth of flavor, and it’s vegan too! Just ten easy-to-find ingredients, including salt and pasta.
I recommend following the recipe exactly (unless you dislike any of the ingredients) for the best results. Feel free to add in extra cooked vegetables at the end (peas, asparagus, cubed potato, leftover roasted vegetables, they’d all be great!) to up the veggie quotient.
This recipe is best with a quality traditional Tunisian harissa paste that is nice and spicy. In this particular recipe I used Le Phare Du Cap Bon harissa paste, and I also highly recommend Dea harissa paste.
This easy spicy harissa pasta recipe will make four large portions of pasta and is a tasty and complete meal, but you can pad it out to five or six servings by adding in some sides.
I’d suggest lightening up the pasta-heavy meal with a simple side salad, such as this easy green salad. Some crusty sliced bread for mopping up leftover sauce would also go well.
Even better, have it with a warm fragrant garlic bread baguette(like this easy 15-minute vegan garlic bread), which would really elevate this meal to superstar status.
How to make it
Making this easy spicy harissa pasta is a breeze. Once you have your ingredients prepared and the (minimal) chopping done, there are just three basic steps. Let’s take a look at what ingredients we’ll need in the image below.
It’s a good idea to put the water on for your pasta first of all. I used fusilli pasta as its shape is perfect for catching all the chunky bits in this sauce, but you can use any type you prefer. Salt the water well, it should taste like sea water!
Next, add the olive oil to a large frying pan or skillet, and heat on medium-high. Halve and peel the onion and slice thinly from root to tip. Add to the pan with the cooked chickpeas (image number one below), and cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
The onions should be softened and lightly browned, the chickpeas will also be lightly browned in places. Some chickpeas may “pop” while frying, and that’s fine, it will help thicken the sauce and add texture.
I normally peel and finely chop the garlic while the onions and chickpeas are cooking, but if you’re slower at chopping you may want to do it before you start cooking.
Next, add the salt, cherry tomatoes, and finely chopped garlic (image number two below – this is also a good time to add your pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package instructions).
Stir, and cook another five minutes, stirring from time to time to stop the mixture from sticking and burning. One note I’ll make here on the cherry tomatoes is that they should be raw, whole (not halved or chopped), and very ripe (slightly overripe is fine too – you want them to be sweet, not sour like when they’re underripe).
The reason they shouldn’t be chopped is that the cooked whole ones will add texture to the final dish and a really nice “mouth-feel” when you bite into them, but chopped will just kind of dissolve into the sauce and make it more tomato-based than what we’re looking for.
Alternatively, you can use canned drained cherry tomatoes, but you add them in just two to three minutes before the sauce is done as they are already cooked and quite soft.
The vegetable mixture should be softened and browned (image three above). Add in the harissa and coconut milk, (image number four) and when at a very lively simmer, cook for between five to ten minutes, or until reduced to your preferred consistency. Your pasta should be done soon, drain and reserve half a cup of the liquid.
After the sauce has reduced enough to suit your taste, add in one tablespoon of lemon juice (image number five above) and taste to check the seasoning and see if you need more lemon juice – you can add up to half a tablespoon more depending on personal preference.
Photo number five was after cooking down the coconut milk and harissa for about eight minutes, and actually, I’d suggest sticking to around six or seven minutes maximum (although this will depend on your stovetop). The sauce will also thicken as it cools, so take it off the heat when it’s just a little bit more liquidy than you’d like.
At around six minutes the sauce will have begun to reduce but still be reasonably creamy, which is my preference, but it’s entirely up to you and how thick or thin you like your pasta sauce.
Four tablespoons of harissa paste give a nice medium heat, but you can add less and then taste to see if you need more if you don’t tolerate spice very well. Add the full amount and taste to see if you’d like more if you’re a fan of spice. Keep in mind that the finished reduced sauce will be slightly spicier than after the harissa and coconut milk are initially added.
Add the drained pasta to the pan with the sauce and mix well (image number six above). If you need to loosen the sauce add some of the reserved pasta water, a little at a time until it’s at the desired consistency. Optionally, you can mash a few chickpeas and cherry tomatoes with a fork if you want to the harissa pasta sauce even chunkier.
Serve hot, with plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
I haven’t tested rose harissa paste yet with this recipe, but I would think so as it has such a similar flavor profile.
While the best spicy paste to use in this recipe is harissa, sambal oelek will also do in a pinch. Gochujang or Sriracha are sometimes used to substitute harissa in other recipes but I don’t recommend their use in this recipe.
My taste testers tell me that this harissa pasta recipe falls squarely into medium-spicy, although for me it’s on the lower end (I have a reasonably high spice tolerance). To make it less spicy or even spicier, check the recipe notes beneath the recipe card below.
If possible, it’s best to store the pasta and sauce separately in the fridge – you can then heat up both separately in the microwave and mix them together. If you’ve already mixed them together, heat in the microwave for one minute on high, add a little water or coconut milk to loosen the sauce. Then heat in one-minute increments until hot enough, or reheat over low heat on the stovetop, loosening the sauce as needed. Leftovers will keep for up to four days in the fridge.
The sauce can be frozen for up to three months. If the sauce was not reduced enough, the coconut milk may separate after defrosting but will still taste good. I don’t recommend freezing when the sauce has been mixed with pasta.
Yes absolutely. It makes for a very refreshing pasta salad, but in this case, it would definitely be better to mix the sauce with short pasta which holds together better in salads.
This harissa pasta is a spicy dish, no two ways about it. If you can’t handle spice then this is probably not the pasta sauce for you. But if spice is your thing (I know it’s mine) then narrow down which level you can handle:
- Mild: Try two and half tablespoons of harissa paste.
- Medium: Stick with four tablespoons.
- Hot: Five tablespoons is a good starting point, add more if you dare… Just kidding, add to taste of course!
Did you make this spicy harissa pasta? Let me know how much you loved it with a star rating in the recipe box, review, or comment below.
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- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas (250g)
- 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 12 oz pasta of choice (340g)
- 3 cups cherry tomatoes (16 oz / 450g)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons harissa paste
- 1 can coconut milk (13.5fl oz / 400ml)
- 1 to 1.5 tablespoons lemon juice to taste (about half a small lemon)
- Freshly ground black pepper to serve (optional)
- Fill a large pot with water, salt well, and set to boil for the pasta.
- Add the olive oil to a large skillet or frying pan and heat on medium-high.
- Peel and thinly slice the onion (don't chop) and add to the hot skillet or pan along with the chickpeas. Cook for five minutes, stirring as needed to prevent sticking. If you haven't done so already, peel and finely chop the garlic.
- Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package instructions.
- Add the cherry tomatoes, salt, and garlic to the pan, stir well and cook another five minutes, stirring as needed - it's fine if everything browns.
- Add the harissa paste (see notes section below regarding spice level) and coconut milk and stir. When at a lively simmer, cook for between five to eight minutes until at your desired consistency, stirring occasionally.
- Drain the pasta when ready, reserving half a cup of cooking liquid.
- Add the lemon juice and mix well. If desired, mash a few chickpeas and tomatoes with the back of a spoon to add more texture.
- Add drained pasta to the pan and toss with the sauce until well-coated. Add some of the reserved pasta water little by little if needed to loosen the sauce. Grind plenty of black pepper over the top (if using) and serve immediately. Enjoy.
Four tablespoons of a good quality spicy harissa paste make this dish a medium spice level.
For a mild level, try two and a half tablespoons - no less as then you won't be able to taste the harissa at all.
For a high (hotttt!) level of spice, add five tablespoons.
If you're not sure how spicy you'd like it, just add a little along with the coconut milk, taste, and adjust.
Canned cherry tomatoes can be substituted for fresh raw ones, but shouldn't be added until the final two.three minutes of cooking.
Serving Size1 large plate
Amount Per Serving Calories 581Total Fat 34gSaturated Fat 20gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 11gCholesterol 0mgSodium 790mgCarbohydrates 60gFiber 11gSugar 8gProtein 15g