Sunday Dinner

Baked Pasta with Chicken Sausage

October 27, 2014
21 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves 8
Author Notes

This recipe is adapted from Al Forno's famous baked pasta method -- it uses less cream and cheese, and incorporates a hearty sausage ragu for a more tomatoey pasta. A 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 2-3 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. —Merrill Stubbs

What You'll Need
  • 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 cup grated mozzarella
  • 1 pound short pasta (I like penne or conchiglie)
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium heavy saucepan until shimmering. Remove the sausage from the casings and add it to the pan, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Brown the sausage well, stirring a couple times, about 5 minutes.
  2. Create a hole in the middle of the pan and add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook until softened, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes and the basil and stir well to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens and the flavors meld, at least 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary. Remove the basil leaves and set the sauce aside.
  3. Heat the oven to 500 °F and butter a 2-quart baking dish. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  4. In a mixing bowl, combine the sausage sauce with the rest of the ingredients, except the pasta and butter. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir well.
  5. Drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook for 4 minutes. Drain well and add to the mixing bowl, tossing gently to combine everything.
  6. Spread the pasta evenly into the baking dish. Dot evenly with the butter, and bake until bubbly and brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool for a few minutes before serving.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

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    Scott Basye
  • Virginia Martin
    Virginia Martin
  • Idalu
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    PG Tipsy

35 Reviews

Amy C. January 20, 2021
I've made this dish quite a few times; one of the times I made it, we invited some guys who were in drug rehab to eat dinner with us. They said, and I quote "this pasta is better than drugs". Henceforth we have renamed this dish in our house as 'druggie pasta'.
Jessamin November 27, 2020
I made this last night, and I'm truly curious if anyone else was able to achieve the color in the photo for this dish. I'm guessing maybe the person who used tomato paste did? I used chopped canned tomato and ended up with a very lightly pink sauce and just quite a bit more liquid than is pictured. The only changes I made were to triple the garlic and chop the basil and leave it in. The dish was ok for me, maybe a little basic (no judgement on that at all). This is an economical and easy dish. I'd imagine if you had kids this would be real winner for a "busy weeknight" situation.
Laura L. July 2, 2020
A family favorite, with some notes. I usually cut the recipe in half for the four of us when I don't want leftovers. I up the sausage to 8 oz and keep the ricotta to 1/4 cup (why be skimpy?) Slice the basil, add a healthy dash of dried oregano and dried red pepper flakes. I love Pomi chopped tomatoes for this. No leftovers, and everyone is happy. Btw, a 2 quart pan will not be nearly enough for the entire recipe. That's what I use for a half recipe (and there's a bit of room left). If making the entire recipe I think that a 3 quart pan is the way to go.
liliana March 29, 2020
I will combine this recipe with the Creamy Sausage Pasta with Cabbage.
There is a cabbage demanding attention in the fridge.
And certainly will up the garlic and add oregano and chop the basil as others have suggested.
Scott B. January 30, 2020
This was delicious - although I did make a few additions. After garlic and onion, I added one t dried oregano and 1/2 t of chili flake, followed by a one T of tomato paste. Then deglazed with 1/4 c dry white wine.
Virginia M. April 23, 2017
My pasta didn't get quite cooked through enough with 4 minutes parboiling, but it was still very delicious. I forgot to add the ricotta to the mixture, but luckily it was delicious added in top and mixed on!
Ciccia October 19, 2016
Has anyone tried this without the sausage, chicken or pork? A meat free version?
Laura L. July 2, 2020
I'm sure it would be fine - I suggest checking out the original Al Forno recipe (easily found on line). It uses multiple cheeses, no meat, and is delicious!
singledad December 14, 2015
thank you for a new favorite
Leslie November 11, 2015
Delicious.I used half the cream, no butter on top, and instead, a little mozzarella on top. Left the chopped basil in and added extra garlic.
Idalu November 7, 2015
Good, easy recipe. I thought 30+ for the meat was too long and I ended up with a lot of liquid. Tasty nonetheless.
LisaD September 8, 2015
I'd like to freeze a batch of this in a baking dish. Could it be baked straight from the freezer or should it be thawed first?
Merrill S. September 8, 2015
It can be baked straight from the freezer. I would bake it (covered in foil) at 350 until heated through (30 minutes or so) and then turn up the heat, uncover it, and bake it uncovered for another 5-10 minutes to brown the top.
PG T. August 29, 2015
Fabulous. Made this last night for a dinner party and everybody could not stop raving about/devouring it. Only tweak I made was more garlic - Merrill's one clove sounded a bit WASPY tame to me :o). FYI, I used Barilla's corkscrew shaped Cellentani and it worked beautifully with the recipe.
Merrill S. August 30, 2015
You've got my number regarding the garlic! :-) Now that I look back on it, one clove does seem a bit stingy.
PG T. August 30, 2015
Miss Merrill! We delivered my 6' 3" middle son to college for his sophomore year today. At lunch before we left, he mentioned how wonderful the pasta was Friday night. He can dream about it all fall semester & I will be sure to have some ready for him his first visit back home. Thank you for the recipe - I was so pleased to send him off with such a special meal. Next up - your Tomato Rice! Using up the rest of the canned San Marzanos. More work-a-day virtuous - but still looks delicious.
Julie W. August 21, 2015
Could this be frozen?
EmilyC January 19, 2015
Made a double batch yesterday -- one pan for my neighbors, one for us. I had the time so let the sauce bubble away for a few hours. So, so good! This is going to be my new go-to recipe when I need to take dinner to friends. Thanks for sharing!
Jo P. November 22, 2014
I am just making this sauce for a crowd tonight--the beginning of the holiday season, doncha love it? At any rate, why am I picking out the basil leaves? Just askin'...
Merrill S. November 22, 2014
You don't have to remove them, but since they're not chopped up someone might get a big mouthful of basil!
eusyab November 6, 2014
I agree. Amazing! Perfectly done pasta. Perfectly cheezy. I'm already looking forward to making it again. About which, I baked it right away this time. But I'm thinking it might be a great make ahead for a busy day in the future: make it up to baking as Merril advises in the intro, then pop it in the oven before dinner. As someone below asked, at what temperature and for how long? Thank you!
Merrill S. November 22, 2014
From the fridge, I'd put it in the oven (covered) at 325 for 20 minutes, then uncover and crank up the heat to 500 for another 7 to 10 minutes to crisp the top.
Kathy C. October 30, 2014
Merrill: Your daughter is a very lovely!
Merrill S. October 30, 2014
Thank you!
Jo P. October 30, 2014
Probably means "cup", don't you think?
Lauren K. October 30, 2014
It was indeed -- thank you! It's been fixed now.
Caite M. October 30, 2014
500°? Really. Wow. Never used that much heat before.
Merrill S. October 30, 2014
Yep, it's what makes this so great -- you get a crisp layer on top, and tender (but not mushy) pasta underneath!
ellie October 29, 2014
Any way to lighten this just a bit? It sounds great, but 1 cup heavy cream plus a cup of mozzarella plus some indeterminate amount of parmesan and ricotta sounds really, really rich.
Merrill S. October 30, 2014
It is rich - although the original (which is divine) calls for 2 cups of cream! By all means reduce the cream and/or cheeses if you like. It's a pretty forgiving recipe.