When it comes to cooking in our family, I’m the casserole queen. My prime cooking season starts in late October, when the North Carolina temperatures get cool enough for sweaters. It usually wraps up in March, when we break out the shorts for our long summer season.
At least for us, casseroles usually coincide with cozy comfort.
But, casseroles are so convenient when cooking for a crowd.
Earlier this summer, we had friends come to visit from California. Their flight arrived late in the afternoon, and I needed an easy recipe for dinner. I didn’t want to spend our first hours together standing at the stove or the grill!
I turned to one of my favorites, baked rigatoni with sausage, and played around with the recipe to create this creamy Italian sausage pasta recipe, a lighter version perfect for a summer dinner. Instead of a heavy cheese sauce, typical of sausage casseroles, I relied on the tang and zip of cream cheese to gain the creaminess without being so heavy. Spices, a can of tomatoes and an onion round out the recipe to make a delicious, lasagna inspired flavor that’s fresh and light enough to enjoy in summer.
Served with salad, it was the perfect summer casserole (though it will taste great come winter, too). I did substitute shells for the rigatoni because my daughter says they hold the cheese better. She’s right! So, choose your favorite noodle — spirals, shells, macaroni or rigatoni — and add this easy sausage pasta bake to your dinner menu rotation! We liked this easy pasta bake so much that I made it again a couple weeks later when our son and his wife came to visit! They approved, too.
Tools needed for this recipe
For this sausage pasta bake, you will need the following equipment (Affiliate links included for your convenience. Learn more here):
- cutting board,
- mixing bowl,
- non-stick spray,
- fry pan — I use ceramic because it’s healthier and requires less oil, revolutionary,
- 9X13 casserole dish,
- 5 quart pasta pot.
Personalize this Creamy Italian Sausage pasta recipe!
The recipe here is easily modified. Add a pinch more seasoning, double the onion, add chopped bell pepper. Just like your family’s favorite lasagna recipe, you can make it your own.
Though, I do think my creamy Italian sausage recipe strikes a great balance for summer. Not too heavy, not too light.
Gustare! (That means enjoy in Italian.)
Creamy Italian Sausage Pasta
- 8 oz pasta cooked, 2 minutes less than instructed
- 1 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 1/2 lb ground Italian sausage browned and drained
- 1 onion
- 1/2 block Philadelphia Cream Cheese more or less as desired
- 1/2 cup milk whole milk is best
- 1/2 tbsp Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 can petite diced tomatoes 28 oz. can, drained
- 1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend divided 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup
- 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
- In large pasta pot, cook the noodles two minutes less than instructed for al dente pasta. They will cook more in the oven.
- Pour off 1/4 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta, and pour into large mixing bowl.
- Toss the pasta with the olive oil so it doesn't stick together and set aside.
- Brown sausage in saute pan and drain on paper towels.
- Dice the onion and add to the saute pan where you browned the sausage, and cook over medium low heat until almost transparent.
- Add the cream cheese to the onion and stir until about halfway melted.
- Add Italian spices, red pepper flakes and milk to the onion and cheese mixture, and stir until the cheese is mostly melted.
- Pour the onion cheese mixture, sausage and drained, diced tomatoes over the pasta.
- Toss these items together.
- Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese over the pasta mixture and stir in. The cheese does not have to melt.
- Pour the pasta into a casserole dish sprayed with Pam cooking spray.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the casserole.
- Sprinkle the panko bread crumbs across the top of the casserole.
- Bake in a 350° oven for 30 minutes until the sauce bubbles and the top is toasty golden.
- Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving.
Save it for later
Enjoy this pasta casserole year round! Please pin it to your Italian recipes, Casseroles and Dinner Recipe Pinterest boards. And, I sure would appreciate it if you’d share it with your friends — the casserole AND the recipe!
When you make it, be sure to let me know what you think!