This easy Italian sausage pasta sauce is delicious over pasta, but you can also use it to top cheese-stuffed shells, layer it in a lasagna, and more.
A versatile sauce for pasta, you could even use it as a pizza sauce. And since Italian sausage is so flavorful, there is no need to add a ton of extra ingredients.
Everyone needs a great pasta sauce made with pantry staples, so keep this in your back pocket for whenever you’re feeling Peckish!
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Why Make a Sauce with Italian Sausage?
Many slow-cooked Italian pasta sauces start with ground beef or pork, and then you add seasoning to them.
Italian sausage already packs a ton of bold flavor. A quick look at the ingredient list of a recipe for hot Italian sausage includes:
- pork shoulder
- kosher salt
- toasted fennel seed
- black pepper
- cayenne pepper
- smoked paprika
- crushed red pepper flakes
- red wine
As you can see, that’s a ton of flavor. So by starting with sausage rather than with ground pork, you get a head start on flavor and a short-cut ingredient list.
Sweet! (Or hot, depending on your favorite style of Italian sausage!)
Versatile Italian Sausage Pasta Sauce
This sauce is versatile.
- You can use it as a “straight up” pasta sauce. (I recommend using hearty pasta shapes such as penne or rigatoni since the sauce is so hearty.)
- You can mix it with the pasta in a casserole dish, top it with cheese, and bake it.
- You can use it for the meaty-saucy layer in a lasagna recipe, including this cauliflower noodle lasagna.
- You can stuff it into shells or pour it over cheese-stuffed shells before baking.
- You could even add stock and creamy cannellini beans and maybe some torn kale to make your own Italian-inspired soup!
As the name implies, it is very easy to make, and you probably have everything you need without having to make a special shopping trip.
I find sauces like this really comforting. The cream cheese lends a comforting richness that reminds me of being a kid, yet the flavors are bold and sparkling. I like the juxtaposition, and I think you will, too.
If you prefer, you could also use heavy cream or milk in place of the cream cheese.
Italian Sausage Pasta Sauce Q & A
No. Breakfast sausage has a different flavor profile and will not work in this recipe. If you do choose to use breakfast sausage, know that it will taste different than the recipe as written. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it will be very different, mainly because breakfast sausage features a lot of sage.
Italian sausage is traditionally made with pork.
Technically you could, but you’d end up having to make your Italian sausage from scratch, which defeats the short cut of using sausage in the first place. If you do want a sub for the pork, you could use a mixture of ground turkey and ground beef along with the spices listed above. Or you could try to find a brand of Italian chicken sausage or Italian beef sausage and use that instead.
Make It a Meal: What To Serve with Your Pasta
As much as I like to sit down and eat a vat of pasta by itself, I know I should really be serving some side dishes to balance out the carbs. Here are some side dishes that would go beautifully with this easy Italian sausage pasta sauce, no matter how you end up using it:
- Summer Salad with Roasted Apple Vinaigrette
- Roasted Brussels Spouts and Cauliflower
- Veggie Cakes
- Fresh Pink Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
- Mediterranean Cucumber Salad
- Braised Baby Artichokes
Rolls to Serve with Your Pasta
And if you simply can’t get enough carbs and love a good, soft bread to go along with your pasta, might I suggest this roasted pumpkin herb focaccia, these garlic chive pull apart dinner rolls, or perhaps some soft, buttery pumpkin dinner rolls?
How to Make This Sauce, Step by Step
As I said, this is a super easy sauce that requires a short ingredient list and short cooking time. Thanks, Italian sausage, for bringing so much flavor to the party.
Here’s how to make this sauce happen:
- Start by cooking the sausage in a cast iron pan, breaking it up as it cooks.
- Add the vegetables and let them cook in the fat the sausage releases.
- Add vinegar and reduce until it has all evaporated.
- Add the tomatoes and simmer, breaking up the tomatoes a bit as they cook.
- Taste and adjust seasonings.
- Melt the cream cheese in at the end of cooking.
- From there, you know what to do! Anything from simply spooning some over toasted or grilled Italian bread as an appetizer to mixing it up with cooked pasta and beyond.
- 1 pound bulk Italian sausage or link Italian sausage removed from the casings
- 1 medium onion, , diced (I used a sweet onion. Use what you have)
- 1 bell pepper, , diced
- 2 cloves garlic, , minced
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, , to taste
- 2 28 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes, (San Marzano are ideal, but I didn't have any and nothing bad happened)
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, , crushed lightly in your palm
- 3 oz softened cream cheese, , optional but comforting (You could also finish it with creme fraiche, a splash or two of heavy cream or half & half)
- Place the sausage in a large, heavy skillet (I used my 12" Lodge) or a Dutch oven over medium heat.
- Break up the sausage as it begins to cook.
- Once it has released some of its fat, add the onion, bell pepper and garlic along with about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and several grinds of fresh black pepper.
- Let sizzle along over medium heat until the vegetables have softened and the sausage is cooked through, well crumbled and is starting to brown, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add the vinegar, stir for a moment and cook another minute or so until dry.
- Pour in the two cans of tomatoes with all their juices as well as the Italian seasoning and another 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and some more grindings of black pepper.
- Simmer for about twenty minutes, breaking up the whole tomatoes into pieces.
- Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.
- Over low heat, stir in the softened cream cheese (if using) until it has all melted and is evenly distributed throughout the sauce.
- Cook a pound of pasta until just shy of al dente (a large, hearty shape such as rigatoni would work well with this rustic sauce).
- Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/3 cup of the starchy water.
- Add about three cups of the sauce to the pot along with the drained pasta and reserved water.
- Cook over high heat, stirring constantly. Be a bit careful about this so you don't break up the pasta.
- After about 2 minutes, the watery sauce will have thickened up and will coat the pasta nicely.
- Serve the pasta on plates or in shallow bowls, ladling over just a bit extra of the remaining sauce if you'd like.
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Nutrition InformationYield 8
Amount Per Serving Calories 281Total Fat 20gSaturated Fat 7.5gCholesterol 60mgSodium 762mgCarbohydrates 10.6gFiber 2.1gSugar 6gProtein 13.8g
And there you have it. Simple. Hearty. Filling. I hope that this wonderful sauce takes you through Winter’s last hurrah and sees you through to spring!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read. I hope you have a lovely day.