This vegan smoky red pepper pasta takes only twenty minutes to prepare, but it’s so vibrant and flavorful. The creamy, roasted red pepper sauce is both dairy-free and nut-free. Best of all, the pasta can be made with simple ingredients that you may have in your pantry already!
I always say that my pasta is my default meal, which is true.
Yet this makes it sound as though I have an easy time creating pasta dishes, which isn’t true at all.
Actually, I think it’s pretty tough to whip up pasta meals that are as simple as they are good. There’s a reason that marinara sauce is my go-to: it’s easy, and I know that it won’t disappoint.
In the last few weeks, I’ve made not one, but two easy pasta dishes that are going to be keepers. Both recipes hinge on a great sauce.
The sauce for this smoky red pepper pasta is wonderfully straightforward. The pasta that results tastes more complex and bold than it should, given how few ingredients go into making it. I’m excited to share it!
A different kind of red pepper sauce
There’s a recipe in my cookbook Power Plates for a red pepper pasta that calls for blended cashews.
Cashews, as many of you know already, are my go-to for creating creamy texture in vegan sauces.
Cashew cream is the behind-the-scenes superhero in so many of my favorite pastas, casseroles, and desserts.
Here’s the thing: some people have nut allergies.
Some people don’t have powerful blenders or food processors that can easily pulverize nuts.
Some people—or should I say, this person—often forgets to soak cashews in advance of making cashew-based sauces. (It’s not a crucial step if the blender is powerful, but it’s usually a helpful step.)
Plus, cashews can be pricey.
All of these factors make me want to create a few pasta sauce recipes in which cashews aren’t the star, for a change.
The sauce for this vegan red pepper pasta, amazingly, does not rely on cashews, or on any other type of nut.
Plus, the pasta recipe turned out to be even simpler than I intended it to be. Five ingredients, in fact!
- Olive oil
- Roasted red bell peppers (I use jarred)
- Smoked paprika
Roasted red bell peppers contribute acidity, sweetness, and saltiness to the sauce. They allow this pasta recipe to embody the notion that less can be more when it comes to cooking.
Olive oil, meanwhile, is what gives the sauce its silky, luxurious texture. And garlic, which is browned gently before blending, provides depth of flavor.
How to make 20-Minute Smoky Red Pepper Pasta
Lately, a few readers have pointed out to me that the estimated prep and cook times for some of my recipes are a bit, er, optimistic.
If you need to chop onion, carrot, and celery for a soup, for example, does it really take only 10 minutes?
This has been really great feedback for me to receive! I underestimate how long recipes will take me sometimes, and that miscalculation probably finds its way into more of my recipes than it should.
From now on, I want to try to be more precise about the prep/cook times that I give.
That said, this vegan red pepper pasta is one of the few recipes I can remember making recently that really did take me only 20 minutes of cook time.
Here are the straightforward steps you’ll take to make it.
Step 1: Set pasta water to boil
Before you do anything else, you’ll bring a pot of salted water to a boil on the stovetop.
Step 2: Boil your pasta
Next, you’ll cook your pasta.
I recommend cooking the pasta according to instructions on the package. Usually, these prompt you to cook the pasta al dente, which is exactly how it should be for this recipe.
Step 3: Cook your garlic
Instead of adding raw cloves of garlic to the red pepper pasta sauce, I add cloves that have been lightly sautéed with olive oil.
You’ll do this while your pasta water boils and pasta cooks.
Just a little bit of browning in a pan helps to mellow out the spicy, assertive edge of raw garlic, bringing out subtle sweetness.
It’s the same effect that happens with roasted garlic, simply with less time and effort.
Step 4: Blend the sauce
In this step, you’ll transfer the cooked garlic to your blender, along with additional olive oil, roasted red peppers, smoked paprika, and salt.
Blend the ingredients together, and the red pepper pasta sauce is finished. It is truly that easy!
Step 5: Mix and serve
By the time your pasta is cooked, the sauce ought to be blended and ready to go.
You’ll drain your pasta, first reserving some cooking water to help bring the sauce together.
Then, you’ll transfer the cooked pasta, cooking water, and sauce to a pot. Heat the pasta over low heat, stirring gently as you go, until it’s saucy, thickened, and piping hot.
At first, the pasta will look very liquidy when you return it to the pot and add the sauce. This is totally OK. As you heat and stir, the pasta will absorb some sauce, and everything will come into balance.
I like to top the vegan red pepper pasta with some of my cashew parmesan cheese.
However, a simple pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, toasted nuts, chopped fresh parsley, or just a little freshly ground black pepper would be fine, too.
Vegan smoky red pepper pasta ingredients
Ingredients for the smoky red pepper pasta are spare, but it’s worthy making a few notes about them.
Roasted red peppers
I like to use jarred, roasted red peppers for this recipe for a few reasons.
First, the liquid from the roasted red peppers actually becomes a part of the pasta sauce. This liquid is salty and acidic, and it creates a lot of flavor in its own right.
Second, jarred, roasted red peppers are useful to have at home in the cold months, when red peppers aren’t in season where I live.
And finally, using the jarred variety of peppers allows me to make this dish super quickly, without needing to take the step of roasting peppers from scratch.
I’m sure it’s possible to create the red pepper pasta with homemade, roasted red peppers, but I haven’t yet tested proportions of peppers and liquid myself. When I do that this coming summer, I’ll update the recipe!
I recommend using your favorite extra virgin olive oil for the red pepper pasta. And in the case of this recipe, I don’t recommend either omitting or decreasing the oil.
Omissions and substitutions can be tricky in a recipe that depends on a very small number of ingredients. Here, olive oil is responsible for most of the smoothness and richness in the sauce, so it’s a very important component.
The inspiration for this red pepper pasta was a pasta dish that I had in veganized form at a restaurant called Kindred.
Kindred closed down in 2022, which made me want to make a version of my favorite dish from the restaurant’s menu.
That version contained pickled garlic and tomatoes as well as peppers in the sauce. My version is simpler, but I tried to recreate the wonderful smoky flavor of the original.
I suspect that smoked paprika had a lot to do with the flavor. It, along with the red peppers, creates the smokiness in this recipe.
If you don’t have smoked paprika at home, you can substitute sweet paprika instead. However, it’s worth trying the smoked paprika when you can—it really brings this vegan pasta to life.
Salt & pepper
The use of roasted red bell peppers from the jar will give this recipe plenty of saltiness. For that reason, I recommend tasting and adjusting salt as needed.
I like to add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes in the final stage of mixing and heating the pasta. This, too, can be adjusted to taste.
Speaking of adjusting ingredients to taste, you can definitely decrease or increase the number of garlic cloves that you lightly sauté for the pasta.
Four is the perfect amount for me.
The pasta that you use for this recipe can be any pasta that suits your preferences and dietary needs.
I like regular ‘ole pasta, but gluten-free pasta, legume-based pasta, and whole grain pasta are all options.
Meal prep and storage
While part of the beauty of this pasta dish is its speed, there’s no reason why you can’t prepare it in advance. A few weeks ago, it became part of my own meal prep for the week.
The Vegan Week
Embrace the joy of eating homemade food every day with the hearty and wholesome recipes in The Vegan Week.
Whether you have three, two, or even just one hour of time to spare, The Vegan Week will show you how to batch cook varied, colorful, and comforting dishes over the weekend.
The red pepper pasta will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days. (For more about my favorite storage containers, check out my beginner’s guide to vegan meal prep.)
You can also freeze portions of the pasta for up to six weeks.
More quick & easy vegan pasta suppers
With the intention of being accurate in mind, I won’t claim that all of my favorite pasta suppers are of the “quick & easy” variety. Some of them take a little time and TLC to come together.
But I do have a home collection of pasta dishes that I make specifically when time, energy, cooking enthusiasm, or all three of those “ingredients” are limited. Here are some:
- Creamy vegan mushroom pasta
- Beans & greens pasta
- Curried tahini pasta salad
- Creamy zucchini corn pasta
- Cauliflower alfredo pasta
- Sausage mushroom marinara pasta
- Carrot mac n’ cheese
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing another.
For now, here’s my new favorite, 20-minute, smoky vegan red pepper pasta.
- 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 16 ounces roasted red bell peppers, with their liquid (450g; 1 16-oz/450g jar, or 2 8-oz/225g jars)
- 12 ounces pasta of choice (340g)
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- cashew parmesan cheese (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup/240ml of the pasta cook water, then drain the pasta.
While the pasta cooks, heat the 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the garlic cloves. Brown the cloves gently (you’re not aiming for them to burn) on one side, about 1-2 minutes of cooking time. Use tongs to flip the cloves and brown them gently on the other side, another minute or so.
Transfer the cooked cloves of garlic to a high speed blender, along with the oil they cooked in. Add the additional 2 tablespoons olive oil, the smoked paprika, the entire jar of red bell peppers, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Blend for a minute, or until the sauce is silky smooth.
Transfer the pasta back to the pot you cooked it in and add all of the sauce from the blender, along with 1/2 cup/120ml of the cook water. Heat the pasta and sauce over medium low heat, stirring as you go, for about 5 minutes. At first there will seem to be a lot of sauce, but the sauce will thicken and the pasta will absorb some of the liquid as you cook. Add additional cook water as needed, adjusting the consistency of the pasta to your preferences, and add additional salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste.
Serve, topped with cashew parmesan cheese to taste.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about softness and ease: where can I create them? How can I fold these sensations into my busy weekdays, so that I don’t end the week feeling tired?
A simple weeknight dinner recipe always helps. This one is warming and cozy for the cold winter temperatures that are moving in as I write this post. I may just need to make the red pepper pasta again.
I hope that the recipe will bring you some ease—and plenty of flavor!—too.