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 28-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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You come up with the most comforting, uncomplicated and delicious meal, John. Mrs. Kitchenriffs is a lucky lady!
Hi Angie, we really like simple -- but very tasty! -- food. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This looks and sounds delicious. Simple fare is always welcome here.
This is wonderful. I love sausage of any king but Italian is king. We can get a Johnsonville Italian sausage, mild or spicy, and it’s pretty good. No good butcher shops to rely on where I live. The good thing is that I can get them as links, or bulk, which is much easier if you are going to break up the sausage meat in any case. Great pasta!
Hi Anne, we love this dish -- SO good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Mimi, good to hear the Johnsonville is good! I'll have to give it a try sometime, although the supermarket brand is really nice. :-) Thanks for the comment.
My kind of comfort food. It looks and sounds tasty.
Hi Pam, very tasty. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is the perfect recipe for me this week. I bought some nice sausage for another dish and have several leftover. One more hint from the peanut gallery - I like to slice the sausage when mostly frozen. So much easier to get nice coins. Thanks for this, John - you saved Saturday supper!
Such a hearty and comforting dish. This is perfect for the cool winter. I little extra spice for me please :)
Hi David, great tip! Especially when you slice them lengthwise first, then into half rounds. You're right that the slices look much nicer. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pat and Dahn, we're all for extra spice! :-) Thanks for the comment.
That is my kind of dish, it looks delicious! Any flavor that "dances on your tongue" work for me. Take care
Nothing more comforting on a cold winter's night than a bowl of pasta...preferably with hot Italian sausage! And lots of parmesan! Thanks John!
Now thanks to you I'm making pasta tonight! This looks delicious!
Hi Pam, yeah, our kind of dish too. One of our favorites. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Abbe, we love cheese on pasta! So good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ashley, aw, you knew you wanted pasta for dinner tonight! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I just can't count ho many times I made a sausage meat and tomato sauce! I've an Italian background and this is such a common meal for us. I need to publish such recipe on my blog because it's probably among my top 5 favourite recipe! :)
Dang, I am craving pasta right now! Great recipe, John, especially with the cold weather we've had this week. :)
Hi FT, I'd LOVE to see your recipe for sausage and tomato sauce! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Judy, we usually crave pasta. :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, we are big fans of sausage in red sauce with pasta. We tend to do bulk, even cutting open links if that's what we've got. But now I think it's time to change things up and do slices. Thanks for the inspiration!
Hi Terry, we sometimes do this with half bulk, half links. Best of both worlds that way! :-) Thanks for the comment.
What a lovely burst of flavour quickly prepared - methinks this may just be the lunch to make on this so far wonderful day for you and the world . . . Australia is smiling, clapping and hoping . . . be well . . .
Hi Eha, this dish is certainly worthy of celebrating today! :-) Thanks for the comment.
We seem to be having very similar menus recently. First the soup and now this pasta. I love a good Italian sausage and tomato pasta sauce like yours and just made a bolognese that uses Italian sausage. Your recipe is a lot easier and I'm sure just as delicious.
What a hearty sauce!
Hi MJ, great mines and all of that. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi L&L, good, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
hi KR. you'll think i'm crazy but i just can't eat pasta with a red sauce. in fact i don't eat much pasta at all. but especially with a tomatoey sauce. it's one of my food phobias. am i weird?:) probably...
John, you have us craving a huge bowl of this at 11pm at night. We should have learned us lesson by now to not go to your delicious website at night or we will get the munchies. LOL. Great recipe and perfect comfort food.
Hi Sherry, probably. :-) But if you don't like it, you don't like it! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bobbi, we're bad that way, aren't we? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Looks and Sounds delicious! Totally comforting food and tempting presentation! we love red sauce pasta, and I make pasta at least once a week, I cannot wait to try your recipe!
Hi Aarthi, we have pasta a lot too -- love the stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is a perfect winter dinner for me! Love the spicy sausage and it looks delicious.
Just the way I love my pasta sauce! Italian sausage imparts such a wonderful flavor. Perfect January meal!
Hi Amy, we LOVE Italian sausage. And pasta. So this is also perfect for us. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Liz, yup. Not to mention the other 11 months. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Total comfort food! Italian sausage is so delicious in pasta.
Hi Laura, Italian sausage is pretty good with/in anything! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Peer Pressure! LOL. Stay well dear friend.
Hi Bobbi, :-)
Good idea to add some of the pasta cooking liquid to the sauce! I don't favor Italian sausage too much unless it's nice and soft. I suppose I could also use Mexican chorizo since it is 'plenty soft'!
Hi Fran, try using bulk Italian sausage -- about as soft as sausage comes! Although I like the chorizo idea -- may have to play with that. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is one of my go-to weeknight dishes. I always keep sausages in the freezer and pasta in the pantry just for this delicious reason. ;)
Hi Carolyn, it's such a good dish, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
My daughter loves pasta in every form and this will definitely go down well with her 😀
What a lovely winter dish and I love that the sauce needs to simmer for a few hours, I bet the house smells incredible.
Hi Taruna, we love pasta in every form, too! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Eva, the house definitely does smell incredible! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I almost always have some hot Italian sausage in the freezer and pasta is its perfect companion. GREG
Hi Greg, Italian sausage plays well with pasta, doesn't it? Thanks for the comment.
The Italian sausage really adds such an extravagant flair to this dish. Now I just have to remind myself to wait that extra few minutes before digging in...
HI Heidi, the wait is worth it! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I like the spicy sausage with tomato sauce as well. The tubular pasta do hold sauce very well. Nice recipe!
Hi Holly, Italian sausage is so good, isn't it? Terrific with pasta! :-) Thanks for the comment.
A lovely dish and I'm very sure excellent with the sausage. However, I'm going to be eating dishes like this virtually as it's then fat free, but only visually satisfying. I can however, have a vegetarian or chicken breast version of your fine dish.
Hi Ron, good to see you comment again! Hope things are going well with you. There are chicken version of Italian sausage, but I doubt if they're fat free, alas. Thanks for the comment.
Sausage is so delicious is a long simmering pasta sauce. Such a comforting dish! :-) ~Valentina
Hi Valentina, really comforting. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Nice and simple pasta, love it. I bet the flacours would be phenomenal
Hi Raymund, the flavor is terrific. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi R, yup! Thanks for the comment.
I love the combination of Italian sausage and pasta. It's the perfect comfort food. This looks delicious!
Hi Dawn, such a wonderful combo of flavors, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
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