Mouthwatering Italian sausage pasta is creamy, flavorful, and comforting. You can easily pair it with a small dinner salad, a side of veggies, or just eat it as a one pan meal. When we have a busy week our family is all about the 30 minutes dinners!
Originally this recipe started as my famous chicken pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, and it’s absolutely delicious. But you can only eat chicken so many times in a week, right? So I swapped the protein for the seasoned Italian sausage that we all love and made another pasta dish that quickly turned to a family fave. I must say, there’s not another spice out there that tastes the same as the fennel (the distinctive flavor you taste) in sausage.
Anytime I can’t decide what to make, it all circles back to pasta. Most of the time the recipes don’t require many ingredients and can be made fairly quickly. If you are a pasta lover like me be sure to try this easy lasagna recipe or my sour cream noodle bake. Both are perfect when you want a simple, comforting meal, and even the picker eaters will like it!
Ingredients for Cheesy Italian Sausage Pasta
- Rigatoni pasta – you can use any medium size noodles such as penne, cavatappi, ziti, or rotini
- Hot Italian sausage – you can also use mild, but the “hot” isn’t spicy, it’s just packed with even more delicious flavor
- Salted butter
- Minced garlic
- Italian seasoning
- Sundried tomatoes in oil and herbs – the oil is full of flavor also, use it generously in the dish
- Heavy cream – you can use milk if needed, but the creaminess from the heavy cream is really yummy
- Baby spinach
- Salt and pepper, to taste
How to Make the Best Italian Sausage Pasta Recipe
In a large pot of salted water, boil the rigatoni and reserve a cup of pasta water. Drain the rest.
In the meantime, brown the Italian sausage over medium heat in a large skillet. Once there is only a little pink remaining, add the diced onion. Continue cooking until it softens.
Add the butter, Italian seasoning, garlic, and sundried tomatoes. Cook for another couple of minutes.
Pour in the heavy cream and reserved pasta water, then bring to a simmer for 3 to 4 minutes.
Stir in the spinach and cooked rigatoni.
Simmer for a couple of minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
Variations, Substitutions, and Helpful Tips
Make it cheesy. If you’d like to add up to 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese to the sauce, you can do so when you’ve added the cream and reserved pasta water to the skillet – add a handful at a time and stirring until it is melted and incorporated into the sauce.
Swap proteins. You can swap in chicken, regular mild Italian sausage, or even shrimp for the hot Italian sausage in the recipe. The hot Italian sausage adds a ton of flavor, I wouldn’t consider the finished dish even remotely spicy, but it does have a ton of seasoning and flavor.
Sub chicken broth. You can substitute chicken broth for the pasta water.
Use half and half or milk. You can also use half and half or milk instead of the heavy cream. If you use half and half or milk, increase the quantity and you may not need the pasta water.
The pasta water helps to thin out the sauce. Using heavy cream makes a nice rich creamy sauce, even with the addition of the pasta water (the pasta water also holds some starches from the cooked pasta so it helps to thicken the sauce.)
Make a full box of pasta. If you’d like to use a full box of rigatoni, I think you could use the same amount of sausage and onions, but double the remaining ingredients (to make enough sauce). You will probably need to use a much larger skillet or stockpot.
Colorful. Add fresh basil (or fresh parsley) and/or fresh cherry tomatoes to this recipe for some added brightness.
Use oil with the tomatoes. Don’t be shy about adding the oil along with the tomatoes into the sauce. The oil helps flavor the sauce – I typically keep my sundried tomatoes in the refrigerator and the oil is more solid when it’s cold – so I just scoop the sundried tomatoes and whatever oil they are surrounded in, into the skillet.
Using Italian sausage links. If you don’t want to use ground sausage, you can use the links instead.
Storing and Reheating
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
The sauce thickens substantially as it sits and cools and the pasta absorbs the liquid. To reheat, add some milk or cream to the pasta and reheat on the stovetop.
Italian Sausage Pasta
- 8 oz. ½ of 1 lb. box rigatoni pasta
- 1 lb. hot italian sausage
- ½ medium yellow onion diced (about 1 cup)
- ¼ cup salted butter
- 2-3 garlic cloves minced
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ½ cup chopped sundried tomatoes in oil and herbs
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- 2-3 cups fresh baby spinach
- Salt and pepper to taste (optional)
- Cook rigatoni in a large pot of salted water to desired tenderness. Reserve about 1 cup of the water to make the sauce and drain the remaining water from the pasta.
- Meanwhile, begin browning sausage in a large skillet over medium heat. When sausage is about halfway cooked (some pink, some brown sausage in pan), add the diced onion and continue cooking until the sausage is cooked and the onion is soft.
- Add butter, garlic, Italian seasoning, and sundried tomatoes to the skillet and cook over medium heat 2-3 minutes longer.
- Add the cream and reserved pasta water to the sausage mixture and bring to a simmer. Simmer 3-4 minutes.
- Stir the spinach into the sauce (it will wilt quickly and does not need to be cooked further), followed by the pasta.
- Simmer 1-2 minutes longer to thicken the sauce as needed.