Weeknight Cooking

Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage

October 28, 2014

Merrill's daughter Clara has quite the appetite -- and it's all Merrill can do to keep up. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, she steps into the fray.

Today: A hearty baked pasta for those fall nights. 

Little Girl Eating Pasta

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Some friends of ours in the neighborhood recently had a baby, and I wanted to take them some food to help get them through those first few chaotic weeks. Their first child is a boy Clara's age, and often when they come to our house for a meal, I make pasta with a chicken sausage ragu. They don't eat red meat or pork, but this poultry alternative is a hit with both families.

I wanted to bring them something they could just pop in the oven and eat, so I turned to everyone's favorite Genius baked pasta. I created a hybrid version that incorporated the beloved chicken sausage sauce, forfeiting some of the cream and cheese for a bolder tomato flavor.

Little Girl Eating Pasta Shells

Because it would have seemed like a missed opportunity otherwise, I bought twice the amount of sausages I needed (my favorite are the house-made sweet Italian chicken sausage links at my local Whole Foods, which aren't too lean) and made a pan of pasta for us too. I used penne, which I find is popular with kids (those little tubes are perfectly sized for toddler fingers), but any pasta with a hole to trap the sauce will do.

One word of advice: If you're not going to bake off the finished dish right away, boil the pasta for even less time than the instructions call for (like 2 to 3 minutes). As the pasta lies cradled in delicious sauce in the fridge it will continue to soften, and you don't want it to turn to mush. 

Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage

Serves 8

1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound fresh sweet Italian sausage (I use chicken, but feel free to use pork)
1/2 onion, diced
Kosher salt
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and smashed
Handful basil leaves
4 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
1 cup heavy cream 
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup ricotta cheese 
1 cups grated mozzarella 
1 pound short pasta (I like penne or conchiglie)
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed 

Photos by Mark Weinberg and James Ransom
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I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


Robin M. January 13, 2015
I had just about decided to write off the entire category of baked pasta dishes after enduring countless disappointments, and then along came this brilliant recipe. Followed the recipe to the letter (OK, maybe I used a full pound of sausage since that's how much I had) with stellar results. Next time around I will probably tweak the technique slightly and remove the sausage from the pan before adding the onions, since it seemed like they didn't cook down thoroughly this time (probably because I got a little nervous and mixed the sausage and onions together prematurely), but aside from that this was perfection!
ChefJune October 31, 2014
I love baked pasta dishes, and this sounds particularly appealing.
The P. October 29, 2014
Winner, winner chicken (sausage) dinner.

LaurenJRB October 28, 2014
I LOVE this dish. And am strongly considering having another baby just to have it delivered to my doorstep.