This Easy Harissa Pasta recipe combines tasty Italian sausage in a spicy tomato sauce flavored with harissa paste and served with fusilli pasta. Hands on prep time is minimal in this perfect weeknight dinner.
I've added heavy cream as a counter to the chili heat to make a creamy sauce here. However, this step is entirely optional and if you like your extra food spicy, you can leave it out and serve spicy fusilli instead.
Feel free to swap out the fusilli for any other type of pasta and use whatever you have at home.
Why You'll Love This Harissa Pasta Recipe
- This pasta recipe is the perfect mid week dinner as it can be cooked and on the table in just 30 minutes.
- Adjust the heat by adding more or less harissa sauce.
- For gluten free harissa pasta swap regular fusilli pasta for a gluten free alternative.
- Adding heavy cream to the pasta sauce can temper the chili heat leaving you with a delicious creamy harissa sauce.
- Leave out the heavy cream and you have a harissa pasta recipe that is suitable for dairy free diners.
- Try some of my favorite quick and easy pasta recipes:
Spicy Harissa Pasta Ingredients
Find the full list and quantities in the recipe card below.
Harissa - use any brand of harissa paste, or your favorite homemade harissa paste.
Sweet Italian Sausage - Italian pork sausages have a great depth of flavor with lots of spices and herbs. The casings should be removed from the sausage so that you can crumble the sausage meat into bite sized pieces before you start cooking.
Tomatoes - use the best quality canned chopped tomatoes, it will make a difference to the flavor of the finished pasta sauce.
Cream - you can add heavy cream (double cream) to the pasta sauce, but this is optional and you can leave it out if you prefer.
Pasta - I've opted for fusilli but feel free to use your favorite type of pasta.
How to Make Harissa Pasta - Step-By-Step
Find the full printable recipe below.
Cook the pasta according to the packet directions in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and reserve a splash of the pasta water to use later if needed.
Meanwhile, cook the finely diced medium onion in olive oil until soft. Season well.
Add the crumbled mild Italian sausage, break it apart with a wooden spoon and cook the sausage chunks over a medium-high heat until nicely browned.
Add the harissa pasta and canned diced tomatoes, stir well, making sure you scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Let the mixture bubble away for 10 minutes.
Taste the sauce and season again if needed. Stir through the cream if using.
Tip the cooked pasta into the sauce and toss, mixing well! Add ¼ cup cooking liquid if you want to thin down the sauce.
Serve with fresh basil leaves and shredded Parmesan, if using.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is harissa and where does it come from?
Harissa is a fiery, spicy chili paste that originated in Tunisia and is very popular in North African and Middle Eastern cooking.
What is harissa made from?
Harissa is a chili paste made with dry red chilies, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and various spices which can include cumin, coriander and caraway. Some pastes may also include other ingredients like sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and flavorings like rose water.
What is a substitute for harissa paste?
A great harissa substitute is would be any sauce or paste with a high quantity of chili in it. Try sriracha sauce, sambal oleck, gochujang or other spicy chili bean pastes.
Variations & Substitutions for Spicy Harissa Pasta
I have used mild Italian sausages for this recipe but you can use any kind of sausage. Pork with herbs or spicy sausages also work well.
Swap the canned diced tomatoes for canned cherry tomatoes, or use fresh cherry tomatoes.
Add in other fresh vegetables to the pasta sauce, try red pepper, zucchini, eggplant or diced sweet potatoes.
For extra heat add some diced fresh chili peppers. If you enjoy it, a teaspoon of sweet paprika is also great in this dish.
The addition of heavy cream in this harissa pasta recipe is entirely optional. You can leave it out if you prefer and you will still have a great tasting tomato and harissa pasta sauce.
For a gluten free harissa pasta swap regular pasta for a gluten free pasta like lentil pasta, chickpea pasta or quinoa pasta.
Tips & Tricks For Making Creamy Harissa Pasta
The heat in this spicy pasta sauce is easily adapted by adding in a little more or less harissa paste.
The best way to ensure the sauce is really coating the pasta is to toss it well - I like to use tongs for this.
Hold back two ladlefuls of the pasta cooking water. It can be used to make the pasta sauce the right consistency as well as helping to coat the pasta in the sauce.
This sauce is easily doubled up, enjoy some now and freeze the rest for a quick and easy dinner another night.
How To Serve Spicy Harissa Pasta
I always like to add some crusty bread or garlic bread to the table, to help mop up the delicious pasta sauce.
How Do You Reheat Harissa Pasta?
Store leftover pasta in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. To reheat place the pasta into a large saucepan, over medium heat to warm through to piping hot. If needed, add a splash of water to loosen the sauce.
How to Freeze Harissa Pasta?
The harissa pasta sauce freezes really well, although I prefer to freeze it before the cream has been added to the sauce, as cream can split during the freezing and defrosting process.
Once the sauce is cooked, allow to cool completely, then place into an airtight container and store in the freezer for us to 3 months. This sauce can be reheated from frozen.
I don't recommend freezing the pasta, as pasta can break down during the freezing and defrosting process. So freeze the sauce and cook the pasta fresh every time.
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More Easy Under 30 Minute Meal Recipe Ideas
Easy Harissa Pasta with Italian Sausage
- 12 oz Pasta - I used fusilli but feel free to use your favorite type of pasta
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 medium Red Onion - finely diced
- 1 lb Italian Sausages - casings removed and crumbled
- 1-2 tbsp Harissa Paste - adjust for spice level preference
- 28 oz Canned Diced Tomatoes
- ½ cup Heavy Cream (Double Cream) - optional
- Sea Salt and Black Pepper
Optional to serve
- Parmesan Cheese - shredded
- Fresh Basil Leaves
- Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions until al dente. Drain and reserve ¼ cup cooking liquid to add to the sauce if needed.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over a medium heat In a heavy saucepan or skillet.
- Add the finely diced onion and cook until soft, around 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add the crumbled Italian sausage and break it apart with a wooden spoon until nicely browned, around 5-8 minutes.
- Add the harissa pasta and canned diced tomatoes. Stir well and let the mixture bubble away for 10 minutes to bring the flavors together.
- Taste the sauce and season again if needed. Stir through the cream if using.
- Tip the pasta into the sauce and toss, mixing well! Add a splash of the reserved pasta water if you want to thin down the sauce.
- Serve with fresh basil leaves and shredded parmesan, if using.