Italian Sausage and Basil Pesto: Sweet Italian sausage, red onion and basil pesto—paired with pasta—gives you an easy, yet delicious, meal the entire family will love. The leftovers (if there are any!) reheat nicely, making it a perfect next-day lunch or late night snack.
Italian Sausage and Basil Pesto Penne
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For this recipe I used my homemade sweet Italian sausage but you can definitely use store-bought mild or hot sausage, if that’s what you and your family prefer.
Cheese is optional, but as all cheese-lovers know, no pasta dish seems complete without a generous sprinkle or two of a great cheese right before serving.
The sauce in this Italian sausage and basil pesto recipe is minimal, simple, light and fresh, perfect for warmer months. All you need is basil pesto, which you can find at any grocery store, and the water you cooked the pasta in. So, make sure you reserve some of the water when you drain your pasta, or simply dip some out right before draining. This water is full of the pasta starch that will thicken the pan sauce, all while making it deliciously smooth.
Penne is the perfect pasta shape for a sausage and pesto recipe because it pairs well with the chunks of sausage and the pasta grooves help lock-in the sauce. Did you know that penne pasta comes in two versions in Italy? It comes as smooth penne (known just as Penne) and grooved penne (known as Penne Rigate).
It’s kind of funny that what we typically refer to as just penne here in the States is Penne Rigate in Italy. Please excuse my rusty Italian, but I believe “rigate” could be translated as grooved, ridged, or lined – describing the surface and texture of this pasta.
Another pasta shape that works exceptionally well with this recipe is rotini. Rotini is my son’s favorite pasta so I use it in this Italian sausage and porcini mushrooms recipe that doubles as dinner the first day and a hearty salad the next.
Italian Sausage and Basil Pesto Penne
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil or oil of your choice
- 1 lb sweet Italian sausage*
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/2 tsp coarse Kosher salt**
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 small red onion sliced
- 1 lb Penne pasta
- 2 tbsp basil pesto
- 1 cup pasta water
- Heat water for the pasta in a large stockpot.
- Heat up oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and crumble it with a fork. Brown it until it loses the raw red color and starts browning, creating brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Season with black pepper and salt unless your jar of basil pesto lists salt as one of its ingredients. Toss in fennel seeds and sliced onion and Sauté for several minutes until the onion turns translucent.
- Your pasta water should be boiling by now, so toss in the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the box.
- Lower the heat on the skillet and let the sausage cook on low heat (stirring occasionally) until the pasta is ready.
- Before draining the pasta, dip out 1-2 cups of pasta water and set aside. Drain pasta.
- Dissolve 1 tbsp of basil pesto in 1/2 cup of pasta water and slowly stir into the sausage mix. Stir well and scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the skillet into the sauce. Add the remaining basil pesto to the skillet and combine well. Slowly pour in another 1/2 cup of pasta water and let the sauce thicken. Toss in the drained pasta and salt for taste. Add a few tablespoons of pasta water, if needed.
- Sprinkle in cheese, basil leaves or fennel seeds and serve hot.
**If your basil pesto jar lists salt as one of its ingredients, it’s possible that you will not need to add any additional salt. Taste for salt at the end.