Baked penne with Italian sausage has everything you want in baked pasta, and then some. Creamy ricotta and mozzarella are tossed with penne and layered with an easy sausage tomato sauce, then baked until the mozzarella is melted and penne is lightly crisp on the top. Perfect for those cooler nights when you just want to cozy up with a hearty baked pasta and a glass of red.
I have never met a baked pasta I didn't like.
Layers of pasta, cheese, and sauce all baked together until the top is lightly browned. And those crispy noodles on the top layer - I cannot get enough of them!
This particular baked sausage pasta came about when I had some extra sausage left after making sausage and peppers and I wasn't quite sure what to do with it.
I freed the sausage from its casing and combined it with onions, garlic, and white wine in a quick tomato sauce.
I had planned to just toss it with pasta as is, but then I realized I also had some mozzarella and rigatoni and decided to throw them together and pop it all in the oven.
This is how I love to cook - I'll often start out doing one thing and wind up creating something new and unexpected.
And my hope and goal is that you always feel inspired to take one of my recipes and give it your own new and unexpected spin.
How to make baked penne with sausage
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Begin by slicing 4 cloves of garlic. Also, dice 1 medium onion.
- In a large high-walled pan or pot, saute the onion in a ¼ cup of olive oil over medium heat until soft (about 5 minutes).
- Add 1.5 pounds of mild Italian sausage and saute the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until browned and cooked through (about 7-10 minutes).
- Create an open spot in the pan and add the garlic. Saute for 3 minutes or until golden, then add a ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more.
- Turn heat to high and add a ½ cup of dry white wine. With a wooden spoon scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any brown flavor bits and continue to cook until most of the wine evaporates (about 2 minutes).
- Turn the heat down to medium and add two 28-ounce cans of high-quality crushed plum tomatoes. Bring the sauce to a simmer and season with salt and pepper to taste. At this time you can turn the heat lower to gently simmer and begin boiling the penne pasta. Cook the pasta in salted water (2 tablespoons kosher salt per gallon of water) until 2 minutes less than al dente. Also preheat the oven to 375f and set the rack to the middle level.
- In a very large bowl mix the undercooked pasta with 4 cups of the sausage sauce, ¾ pound of shredded mozzarella, 1 pound ricotta, and a ½ cup of Pecorino Romano.
- In a 9x13, or better yet a 10x15 baking dish, add a thick layer of the sausage sauce to the bottom of the dish. Spread it out then pour in the pasta.
- Layer a bit more sauce on the top of the pasta and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ pound of mozzarella cheese. Bake for 25 minutes or until browned on top.
- For extra color broil for 1-2 more minutes but watch carefully! Wait at least 10 minutes before eating so that the pasta settles. Enjoy!
Top tips for the best baked Italian sausage pasta
- The pasta. Make sure you undercook your pasta. In the recipe, I say to cook until 2 minutes less than al dente. The pasta box will usually state the al dente cooking time. This is important because if the pasta is not undercooked, it will become mushy and lose its bite during the baking process when it continues to cook. If you like mushy pasta, then fully cook it, but I've found that the majority of folks would rather their baked pasta have a firmer al dente texture.
- The sausage. If you can find bulk Italian sausage, you can definitely opt for that as you'll save yourself the step of removing the sausage from the casing. If you need to remove it from the casing, simply make a slice down the sausage and free the meat from the casing. I used fennel sausage for this recipe but experiment with what works for you. Spicy sausage, parsley and cheese, or any other variety of Italian sausage would be great here as well!
- Avoid sticking. Adding a thick layer of sauce to the bottom of the pan will help prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom and will therefore save you cleaning time afterward.
- The wine. I used white wine for this recipe. I absolutely love the combination of sausage and white wine in sauces, such as in Pasta alla Norcina and this creamy Italian sausage pasta. That being said, if you prefer to use red wine, you can certainly do so.
More perfect baked pasta recipes
Looking for more baked pasta recipes? Look no further - here are my absolute favorites.
- Rigatoni al forno - Melty mozzarella and rigatoni are tossed with a hearty meat ragu and baked to perfection.
- Creamy mushroom pasta bake - Fontina cheese, roasted mushrooms, spinach, thyme, ricotta, and a hint of nutmeg lend incredible flavor and texture to this decadent baked pasta.
- Meatless baked ziti - Classic marinara, mozzarella, ricotta, and ziti are baked until crisp and bubbly.
- Baked butternut squash pasta - Penne, mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano are tossed with roasted butternut squash and sage in this cozy Fall inspired baked pasta.
- Italian-American lasagna - Layers of pasta, meat ragu, and herbed ricotta.
- Stuffed shells with ricotta and spinach - Creamy spinach and ricotta stuffed shells topped with meat sauce.
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For the sauce
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion diced
- 1.5 pounds bulk Italian fennel sausage or remove from sausage casings
- 4 cloves garlic sliced
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
- 2 28 ounce can plum tomatoes hand crushed or blender pulsed
- ½ cup dry white wine
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 pound penne pasta or ziti, rigatoni, etc
- 1 pound mozzarella shredded, divided
- 1 pound ricotta
- ½ cup Pecorino Romano grated
For the sauce
- In a large pan or pot saute the onion in olive oil for 3 minutes over medium heat. Add the sausage to the pan and spread it out while breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Cook the sausage until browned then add the garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes or until fragrant. Add the hot red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more.
- Add the wine to the pan and turn the heat to high. Once the wine mostly evaporates turn the heat back down to medium and add the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Taste test the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the sauce simmer on low and move to the next step.
Assembling the baked sausage penne
- Preheat oven to 375f and set the rack to the middle level.
- While the sauce is simmering bring a large pot of salted water to boil (2 tablespoons kosher salt per gallon of water). Cook pasta until 2 minutes less than al dente.
- Prepare a 9 by 13 baking dish by placing a ¼ inch thick layer of sauce on the bottom.
- Place 4 cups of sauce into a large bowl and add the pasta. Also, add the ricotta, Pecorino Romano, and ¾'s of the shredded mozzarella. Mix well.
- Pour the pasta into the baking dish. Top with a thin layer of sauce and the remaining mozzarella. Bake for 25 minutes or until browned on top. For extra color broil for 1-2 more minutes but watch carefully! Wait at least 10 minutes before eating so that the pasta settles. Enjoy!
- Makes 8 moderate-sized or 4-6 large portions.
- Undercook the pasta! Fully boiled pasta will become mushy after baking for another 30 minutes, so shoot for a bit firmer than al dente or about 2 minutes less than the box instructions.
- Put a hefty layer of the sausage sauce on the bottom of the baking dish to avoid sticking.
- Bake the pasta until the cheese is bubbly and slightly browned on top. For extra color, broil for 1-2 minutes, but watch very carefully to avoid burning.
- Leftover sauce can be saved or served on the side or used for bread dipping.