This homey pasta sauce features bold flavor
We love us some pasta. Comfort food at its finest!
Especially when we top it with this sauce – which is meaty with a bit of spicy zest. Combine your dish of pasta with a salad (and maybe some garlic bread) for a particularly satisfying meal.
Recipe: Italian Sausage and Tomato Sauce
Flavorful Italian sausage is the star of this dish. Recipes for this type of sauce often specify bulk sausage, but we prefer to use links (we provide instructions for using bulk sausage in the Notes). If you go with sausage links, you’ll want to slice them thinly (we cut the links in half lengthwise first, then slice them) and brown the slices before incorporating them into the sauce. You can use hot or sweet sausage, or a mix of the two – your preference.
We like to serve this sauce with a tubular-shaped dried pasta. Rigatoni and penne are our favorites, but any interesting shape will work.
This is not a quick-cooking sauce. It should simmer for at least 1 hour (though 2 hours suits our taste better). Prep time is about 15 minutes.
This recipe yields enough sauce for about 1 pound of cooked dried pasta (4 to 6 servings).
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (or more, to taste)
- ~1 pound Italian sausage, prepared as discussed in the recipe headnote
- 1 medium onion, cut into ½-inch dice
- salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon kosher salt for us, but see Notes)
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or finely minced (to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 29-ounce can puréed tomatoes
- 1 to 2 cups water (as needed)
- 1 pound cooked dried pasta, prepared according to package directions (but see Notes)
- 1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish (optional)
- Place a 4-quart saucepan (preferably one with a wide bottom) over medium stovetop heat. When hot, add the olive oil and heat for 15 seconds. Then add the Italian sausage and sauté on each side until thoroughly cooked and browned (5 to 7 minutes).
- Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels. Add the onion to the saucepan, salt to taste, and sauté for 5 minutes. Then add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the red pepper flakes and oregano, stir to combine, then add the tomato paste. Stir again and sauté for 2 minutes. Then add the canned tomatoes and water (if desired). Add the cooked sausage (from Step 1). Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cook for at least an hour (preferably two). Stir the sauce from time to time as it cooks. If too much liquid evaporates as it simmers, you may want to add some water to maintain the consistency you prefer.
- When you put the water on to cook the dried pasta, taste the pasta sauce and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Once you’ve cooked the pasta according to package directions (see Notes), reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta, then return it to the cooking pot. Place the cooking pot back on the stove burner, but keep the burner turned off. Then add the pasta sauce to the cooked pasta. Stir to combine, then let the mixture sit for a minute or two so the flavors can combine. Add a bit of the reserved cooking water if you want a more liquidy sauce.
- Dish up the pasta and sauce, garnish with cheese if desired, and serve.
- The better the quality of the sausage you use, the better this dish will taste. Our local grocery makes pretty good Italian sausage at their in-store butcher shop. If yours doesn’t, a local butcher probably does. There are some national brands of Italian sausage on the market, but we don’t have experience with those.
- If you want to use bulk sausage rather than sliced links: Sauté the sausage until it’s brown. We usually do this in a frying pan while we cook the onions (Step 2), then drain the sausage and add it to the onions.
- BTW, if you have sausage links but prefer bulk sausage, it’s easy enough to remove the sausage meat from the casings.
- If you’re using hot Italian sausage in this recipe, you may want to skip the red pepper flakes. (We never do, though, because we like spicy.)
- When we have fresh basil on hand, we often like to stir a handful into the pasta and sauce just before serving.
- We sometimes also add a bit of vinegar to the sauce right at the end to brighten and sharpen the flavor. Balsamic vinegar is particularly nice.
- We view the cooking instructions on most pasta packages with skepticism. We like our pasta al dente, so it often cooks more quickly than the instructions suggest. We usually begin testing after the pasta has been cooking for 6 or 7 minutes. BTW, if your pasta has been sitting in the pantry for a while, it may take longer to cook.
- We always season pasta cooking water with a tablespoon or two of kosher salt. We find that if we season the pasta cooking water liberally, we don’t need as much salt in the sauce.
- Speaking of salt: We use kosher salt for cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
Spice is Nice
“Love the spicy Italian sausage,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Flavor that dances on your tongue.”
“I really tuned up this recipe,” I said. “So your praise is music to my ears.”
“This dish deserves a permanent place on our dance card,” said Mrs K R.
Yep. And that’s no song and dance.
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