3 no-cook pasta sauce recipes for weeknight easy dinners

Pepper, Harissa and Tomato Pasta Sauce

Total time:20 mins

Servings:4 to 6

Total time:20 mins

Servings:4 to 6


You know that little tingle of excitement you feel when Netflix is about to drop a new season of your favorite show? I get that feeling when I find out Sabrina Ghayour is about to release a new cookbook.

Recently, I ripped open a thick envelope and found an advance copy of her “Persiana Everyday.” The book is due out in October.

I’m a fan because Ghayour writes for the harried home cook who wants big flavor.

“I cook every day. I’ve cooked every day since I was a kid — every meal in the house,” she said in a phone call from home in the United Kingdom. The Iranian British chef has written about growing up an only child in a house with parents who did not cook. She credits that with freeing her from being hidebound by tradition and giving her room to experiment.

When I asked Ghayour about the deftness of her tightly written recipes, the author of six cookbooks said: “I’m phenomenally lazy. I don’t like washing things if I don’t have to.”

She often refers to herself as “stubborn,” saying she respects classic cooking techniques, but in her day-to-day life as a working stepmom, she leans into efficiency and away from what she calls “momma cooking,” cooking it the way it has always been done, following specific rules, a firm ingredient list and using multiple bowls, pots and pans.

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“I wanted to be a commercially available Middle Eastern girl,” she said of her food writing and recipe development. “I want people to cook from my books — not do one amazing feast that took 15 hours to prepare and then put the book back on the shelf.

“If you really want to be truthful, there is really not that much authenticity in this book, because I made this up.

“My whole ethos and style is stripping things back from the perspective of what we don’t need. If, as Persians, we have certain ingredients that you have to hunt down, I’m like, don’t use that.”

Make this Sabrina Ghayour recipe: Walnut, Spinach and Herb With Zucchini Pasta Sauce

Case in point: Several simple recipes feature rose harissa, the Tunisian chile paste with rose petals or water for a more floral note.

I told her I struggled to choose a recipe from her latest cookbook because I’m tempted by so many, including her Harissa and Lemon Roasted Chicken Thighs, in which the chicken is slathered with a mixture of harissa, yogurt, lemon juice and zest and baked until slightly charred.

“I’m making them right now,” she said. “I really make them all the time. They’re just like a two-minute no-brainer. I can have the chicken with wraps or rice and tomorrow it will go into a curry.”

When I mentioned how often she uses harissa in her recipes, Ghayour said: “I live in a village with no grocery store, no shops, so I use the same things over and over again.”

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Harissa is one of the condiments she urges home cooks to keep on hand because it is so versatile. (If you buy a jar, you also can use it to make the Harissa Chicken Noodle Lettuce Cups from her “Simply: Easy Everyday Dishes” cookbook.)

“It’s great stirred into pasta sauces. It’s great in stir-fries to make it spicy. It’s great in salad dressing. It’s great in butter compounds. It’s just that completely giving ingredient that you cannot stop using.” Still, she said, if you don’t have it, substitute your favorite chile paste.

Make this Sabrina Ghayour recipe: Yogurt, Tarragon and Pistachio Pasta Sauce

“In terms of food, [the pandemic] has been an education that I didn’t expect,” she said. “It made us realize that, as cooking professionals, we’re lucky our pantries are stocked a little better with somewhat [hard-to-find] ingredients.”

The recipe I eventually settled on is a 10-minute, no-cook Pepper, Harissa and Tomato Pasta Sauce, which has multiple uses.

Ghayour encouraged me to imagine quickly pan-frying bone-in chicken thighs, then baking them with this sauce and a handful of salty black olives. The pepper sauce also is great with cubed potatoes for a patatas bravas-style dish or tossed with lamb meatballs.

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She included recipes for two other no-cook pasta sauces on the same page, and I tried those as well.

She also recommends serving the Walnut, Spinach and Herb With Zucchini Pasta Sauce over thin, breaded chicken cutlets with a squeeze of lemon, while the Yogurt, Tarragon and Pistachio Pasta Sauce pairs well with lamb or kefta kebabs.

All three of these sauces freeze beautifully. I know because I made them all in one night and sampled each, and then froze the leftovers.

And, if Ghayour writes another cookbook, which I hope and think she will, I’ll probably write about that one, too. Keep on being stubborn, Ms. Ghayour.

Pepper, Harissa and Tomato Pasta Sauce

This spicy red no-cook sauce comes together in about 10 minutes in a blender. It’s so easy to make, it might be done before your pasta has finished boiling. The dish can be a fast-and-easy weeknight meal, but it also works well as a side dish with simply cooked proteins, such as steak, grilled chicken, lamb or tofu.

Storage Notes: Refrigerate leftover sauce for up to 3 days; freeze for up to 1 month.

Where to Buy: Make your own rose harissa, or find it in international markets or online.

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  • 1 pound your favorite pasta shape
  • Fine salt
  • 2 large red, orange or yellow bell peppers (14 ounces total), cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 6 ounces oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons rose harissa
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Fill a large pot with water, place over high heat and bring to a boil. Season lightly with salt, add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions, stirring occasionally, until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, place the bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and harissa in a blender and process until smooth. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, as needed.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add it to a large bowl. Pour the sauce over it and, using tongs or two big forks, toss to coat. Serve family-style, with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Per serving (1 1/3 cups pasta, 1/3 cup sauce), based on 6

Calories: 364; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 168 mg; Carbohydrates: 67 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 12 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From “Persiana Everyday” by Sabrina Ghayour (Hachette, 2022).

Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to [email protected].

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