Creamy Red Pepper Pasta with basil and Parmesan comes together in just 30 minutes. Serve this red pepper pasta sauce with your protein or veggie of choice for a guaranteed weeknight win.
Why You’ll Love this Red Pepper Pasta
This restaurant-level pasta sauce is what weeknight dreams are made of. Featuring an aromatic mix of onions and garlic, smoky roasted red peppers, and a pinch of chili flakes, it blows jarred pasta sauce out of the water.
Plus, the red pepper pasta sauce can easily be made vegan/dairy free with a couple simple swaps. For a protein boost, I love using a chickpea or lentil-based pasta. However you can also add grilled chicken, shrimp, or your favorite faux-meat product. (I personally love Field Roast Plant-Based Italian Sausage.)
Both kids and adults will love the bright, umami-rich flavor, and top-notch creaminess of this pasta. It’s quick and easy enough for weeknight dinners, and holds up exceptionally well for leftovers. What’s not to love?!
Recipe Ingredients and Substitutions:
- Roasted Red Peppers: I prefer buying jars of roasted red peppers for convenience, however you can also roast them yourself. This can done in the oven or over a flame if you have a gas stovetop.
- Tomato Paste: Most vegetarian pastas need some sort of umami booster, and tomato paste is my go-to. The key is to cook down the tomato paste until it turns brick red and begins sticking to the pan. This helps unlock its full flavor potential, which makes the pasta infinitely more savory.
- Aromatics: A mix of onion and garlic add an aromatic foundation to this soup. The recipe suggests yellow onion, however you can also use white or sweet onion, or even shallots. And if you’re a garlic lover like me, feel free to increase the cloves from 4 to 5 or 6.
- Spices: A mix of smoked paprika and chili flakes add a smoky, spicy backbone to the sauce. For mild heat, use 1/4 tsp chili flakes, or for medium, bump it up to 1/2 tsp.
- Pasta: Any pasta shape here works! I personally love rigatoni, however long-strands like spaghetti or bucatini will also work. For a protein boost, use a chickpea or lentil-based pasta. My go-to brands are Banza and Barilla.
- Sherry: You can actually find sherry cooking wine in the vinegar section at most well-stocked grocery stores. It certainly doesn’t have to be anything fancy! If you can’t find it, you can use a mix of broth and sherry vinegar instead.
- Cream: A splash of heavy cream adds richness and body to the sauce. It also helps cut through the acidity of the tomato paste and roasted red peppers. If making vegan/dairy free, use cashew cream instead.
Step 1: Cook Pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add pasta and cook until al dente. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water.
Step 2: Sauté Onions, Garlic, and Tomato Paste
While the pasta boils, begin cooking the aromatics. Start by heating a glug of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Once hot, add onions; cook 7 to 8 minutes, or until soft.
Next, add garlic, tomato paste, smoked paprika, and chili flakes. Cook this mixture for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomato paste turns brick red. (This helps unlock its full flavor potential!)
Step 3: Deglaze Pan with Sherry and Broth
Add sherry and broth, and stir to release any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Simmer this mixture for about 3 minutes, until the liquid slightly reduces. Season with salt and black pepper.
Step 4: Blend Red Pepper Pasta Sauce
Transfer onion mixture to a high power blender, and add roasted red peppers. Blend mixture until smooth, about 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer sauce back to the pan.
Step 5: Stir in Heavy Cream
Add heavy cream to the red pepper sauce and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Step 6: Add Pasta and Spinach to Red Pepper Sauce
Combine pasta, spinach, and blended red pepper sauce in pot. Stir mixture continuously until spinach wilts down and sauce begins clinging to noodles. Stir in reserved pasta cooking water in 1/4 cup increments until desired consistency is achieved. Lastly, stir in basil and sprinkle in Parmesan cheese, stirring continuously, until combined.
Spoon pasta onto plates or bowls, and garnish with extra basil and cheese, if desired!
- Add Chicken or Shrimp: To pump up the protein, this recipe is great with chicken or shrimp. For chicken, sauté diced pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breasts until cooked through. For shrimp, sauté peeled and deveined shrimp in a skillet until no longer opaque. Stir chicken or shrimp into pasta right before serving.
- Add Vegetables: This pasta is delicious with sautéed spinach, broccoli, and/or mushrooms. The spinach will wilt down upon being mixed into the pasta. Broccoli and mushrooms, on the other hand, should be sautéed separately before being mixed in.
- Make it Vegan: To make vegan red pepper pasta, swap the heavy cream for cashew cream, and the Parmesan for nutritional yeast.
- To make homemade cashew cream, pour 2/3 cup boiling water over 1/3 cup raw cashews. Let sit while the pasta cooks. When ready to stir in the cream, transfer mixture to a blender and blend until smooth.
How to Store, Reheat, and Freeze Red Pepper Pasta:
This easy pasta makes a big batch and reheats well, so it’s a great recipe to prep at the beginning of the week. Leftovers will create fast, easy, and healthy meals all week long.
- To Store. Keep leftover pasta in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Gently rewarm leftovers in a Dutch oven or soup pot on the stovetop over medium heat, splashing in broth or water as needed to loosen the sauce. You can also reheat individual portions in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Store pasta in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
More 30 Minute Pasta Recipes to Try:
If you give this recipe a try, I’d love for you to leave a rating and review. Also, be sure snap a pic and tag #dishingouthealth so I can see your beautiful creations.
Creamy Garlic Red Pepper Pasta (30 Minutes)
- Large skillet
- Dutch oven or stock pot
- 1 lb. dry pasta of choice (use chickpea or lentil-based pasta for more protein)
- 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup sherry cooking wine*
- 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1 (12-oz.) jar roasted red peppers, drained
- 1/4 cup heavy cream (sub cashew cream if making vegan/dairy free)
- 3 cups fresh baby spinach
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
- 3 Tbsp. fresh chopped basil leaves, plus more for garnish
- For serving (optional): chicken, shrimp, Italian sausage, or meat analogue of choice if making vegetarian.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add pasta and cook until al dente. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water.
- While the pasta boils, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Once hot, add onions; cook 7 to 8 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic, tomato paste, smoked paprika, and chili flakes. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomato paste turns brick red.
- Add sherry and broth, and stir to release any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes, until the liquid slightly reduces. Stir in salt and black pepper.
- Transfer mixture to a high power blender, and add roasted red peppers. Blend until smooth, about 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer sauce back to the pan, and stir in heavy cream.
- Combine pasta, spinach, and red pepper sauce in pan over medium-low heat (if pan is too small, combine all ingredients in the pot you boiled pasta in). Stir continuously until spinach wilts down and sauce begins clinging to noodles. Stir in reserved pasta cooking water in 1/4 cup increments until desired consistency is achieved. (I always end up using the full 1 cup.) Add basil and sprinkle in Parmesan cheese, stirring continuously, until combined.
- Garnish with extra Parmesan and basil upon serving, if desired.