Penne with tomato sausage sauce

This is one of my favorite pasta recipes, adapted from the great Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray of the River Cafe in London.


  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 lb fresh Italian sausages (pork or poultry), skinned
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
  • Crushed red pepper, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 2/3 cup cream or 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 lb penne
  • 4 oz Parmesan, grated


  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium heat and saute onions until light brown.
  2. Add sausage meat, breaking it up with a spoon.
  3. Add rosemary, bay leaves and crushed red pepper. Cook until sausage is well browned and crumbled – cooking the sausage well makes a difference. Drain excess fat (may not be necessary with poultry sausage).
  4. Add tomatoes and bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until tomatoes soften and begin to break down.
  5. If using cream, remove sauce from heat and stir in cream. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
  6. If using milk, heat milk in microwave (this seems to help the milk from separating when you add it to the tomato sauce). Add hot milk to pot and stir. Simmer gently for a few minutes if the sauce seems too thin. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
  7. Cook penne in a generous amount of boiling salted water (salty like the sea). Cook penne al dente – it should still have a bit of chew at the core. Reserve a cup of the cooking water before draining pasta.
  8. Toss pasta in sauce, adding a bit of the reserved cooking water as necessary to loosen the sauce. Add half the Parmesan.
  9. Serve with the remaining Parmesan.

Serves 4.


  • Heavy cream, light cream, half-and-half or whole milk will all work in the recipe, with varying levels of creaminess in the end result. I use whole milk because it’s what I have on hand and because I like to save my indulgence ration for dessert. Use what you have and what you like.
  • To skin sausages: use sharp knife to slice sausage casing from end to end. Then peel off the casing from the meat.
  • A bit of kick is great in this sauce. You may not need extra crushed red pepper if your sausages are already spicy. The dairy offsets the spice a bit.
  • You can easily make this sauce a day ahead. I’ve never had trouble with the dairy separating when reheated, but it’s safest to refrigerate it before adding the cream or milk. Then when you are cooking the pasta, you can reheat the sauce gently on the stove and follow the directions above for adding the dairy.

Here’s a link back to the post and pictures.

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