Baked Pasta with Italian Sausage

Baked-Pasta-with-Sausage-3Pasta is a great family dinner because it is easy to prepare, delicious and cost effective.  Being a cheese lover, I actually prefer a baked pasta over just plain pasta with tomato sauce.  The added cheese mixture of ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella adds great texture and flavor to the dish.  It also can serve more people because it is more filling (extra bonus).  Plain baked pasta is great, but I’m also always trying to find ways to add some meat to dinner dishes for the hubby.  He likes his meat, so I try to always add some in somehow into dinner.  Having extra sausage in my freezer, I decided to dress up baked pasta with some delicious hot sausage.  Feel free to use sweet as well, it will be equally delicious.  This recipe serves a bunch, so feel free to half the recipe, or even freeze the leftovers for another dinner.  Two in one, how great is that.  So jazz up your baked pasta and enjoy.  Make the first bite count!



Total Time:  1 hour

Servings:  6-8



1 box (16 ounces) pasta, any kind you prefer (I used Farfalle)

5-6 sausage links, hot or sweet (depending on your preference)

1 (15 ounces) container of ricotta cheese (I used part-skim)

2 eggs

1 and 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried parsley

3 1/2 cups tomato sauce (a jar or homemade), divided

fresh basil, optional (for topping)



1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Season generously with salt and add the pasta.  Cook about 2 minutes less than the time on the box for al dente.  It will continue to cook in the oven.  Drain and reserve.

3.  While pasta is cooking, heat a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Remove the sausage from its casing and add to the pan.  Break up into pieces and cook until no longer pink, about 5-6 minutes.  Remove and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain some grease.

4.  While sausage is cooking, in a medium bowl combine ricotta, eggs, 1 cup of mozzarella, parmesan, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and dried parsley.

5.  I like to use a tin foil pan (for easy clean-up) about the size of a 13×9 pan.  Add the pasta, cheese mixture, and 3 cups of sauce.  Stir to combine right in the foil pan.  Spread to make an even layer.  Pour the remaining 1/2 cup over the top of the pasta and then sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

6.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the cheese on top melts.  Serve with fresh basil on top, if desired.


Lighter Version – White Cheddar Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli

Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli in a creamy White Cheddar Cheese sauce – a lighter version!

White Cheddar Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli-1

I used to make a recipe similar to this using one of the flavored boxed pastas and I would add some grilled chicken and broccoli. It was delicious but I knew I could make a sauce myself that would be healthier and even tastier than what comes in the powdery mix of a box. This creamy white cheddar cheese sauce is made with skim milk. I only buy skim milk so I decided to use what I had on hand and it worked out great. It would probably be creamier if prepared with whole milk or even heavy cream, but it tasted cheesy and delicious and had a lot less calories and fat with the skim. I encourage you to try this healthy dish and you won’t be disappointed. Make the first bite count!

Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk (I used skim)
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 ounces shredded white cheddar cheese
1/2 pound pasta (I used Penne)
1 bunch fresh broccoli, stalks removed and chopped (about 2 cups)
2 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
Freshly grated parmesan, for serving (optional)

1. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to remove any lumps. Cook for about a minute. While whisking, slowly stir in milk. Add nutmeg, garlic powder, salt and pepper and whisk until smooth. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened, about 10-15 minutes. (The skim milk will take a little longer)

2. While the sauce is thickened, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season the boiling water with salt, then add the pasta. About halfway through cooking time, add the broccoli. Stir occasionally. When finished cooking, drain and return to pot.

3. When sauce is thickened, remove from heat and add the white cheddar cheese. Stir until smooth and all the cheese has melted.

4. Add the cooked chicken and cheese sauce to the large pot with the pasta and broccoli. Stir until combined. Serve hot with freshly grated parmesan on top.

What’s for Dinner? Week of October 20, 2013


My husband celebrated his birthday last weekend, and we were able to spend the entire day with his family. The weather was gorgeous. We played outside with his 3-year-old nephew, watched football, ordered a “fancy” take-out dinner and then sat around the fire pit. Although food is my passion, the family decided it was easiest to get some good old take out for dinner. And sometimes, it really is the easiest. It was fast, delicious, and the clean-up was a breeze. It really gave us time to hang out together as a family. Fortunately, we are only about 1 and 1/2 hours away from my in-laws so we get to see them lots throughout the year. Obviously a birthday is always a little more special, especially when it’s my husband’s birthday. 🙂 We did have birthday cake afterwards with some delicious snickery-doodle cookies that I made from one of my favorite baking blogs, Sally’s Baking Addiction. They were delicious, and if you are looking for a tasty dessert to make for a party or just to make for a hang-out-and-stuff-your-face Sunday, I highly recommend her website for all types of sweet goodies.

Anyway, so last weekend was a blast. We got to celebrate my husband’s birthday with his family and really just relax and enjoy the weekend. Needless to say, the meals that followed for the week were based on my husband’s cravings and ideas. Since it was his birthday, I gave him as much input as he wanted into the menu. Chicken Marsala is one of his favorites, so even though you may have seen that on the menu before, I couldn’t tell him no. And even though it is a little more work for him, he loves the grill, so with the weather still nice, we added the Turkey Burgers to the menu as well. The other two dishes are thrown in there for a little variety but also things I know my hubby enjoys. So create your menu, make your shopping list and off to the grocery store you go for the one-stop shop for the week. Make the first bite count!


MondayChicken Marsala with pasta | Roasted Parmesan Broccoli

TuesdayMonterey BBQ Turkey Burgers | Onion Rings

WednesdayBowtie Pasta with Chicken and Spinach

ThursdayPulled Pork Chili


What’s for Dinner? Week of October 13, 2013


Well the weather is finally starting to cool down in our area and it is feeling more and more like fall. I decided to start the week off on Sunday by making a delicious Baked Ham. Served with cheese and chive potato casserole, it was a great comfort food meal on a cool, fall day while watching football. The rest of the menu covers a little bit of everything from sausage to pasta to steak to chicken. If I have trouble coming up with dinners to make for the week, one of the first things I do is try to very the protein selection. As you can see, this week I did just that, which is why there is such variety. It is also helpful to cook for the weather. In cooler weather, people tend to gravitate towards hearty, comfort foods. So that can always be a way to give you ideas as well. I hope you enjoy. Make the first bite count!


SundayBaked Ham | Corn | Cheese and Chive Potato Casserole

MondayPasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe

TuesdayHam and cheese sandwiches (from the leftover ham on Sunday)

WednesdayStuffed Flank Steak with Gravy | Mashed Potatoes

ThursdayChicken Francese with Pasta | Roasted Parmesan Broccoli


Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe


Broccoli Rabe is one of my favorite vegetables. Being Italian, I love garlic, and broccoli rabe is made with lots of garlic (and some red pepper flakes) to give it lots of flavor. I think most grocery stores sell broccoli rabe, however plain old broccoli or even spinach would be perfect substitutes. I used hot italian sausage to give even more flavor, but I have made it with sweet sausage and it tastes just as great; it just depends on your preference. I also used a fun curly pasta called campanelle, but any type of pasta will do. Maybe even a cheese tortellini, hmmm…. I’ll have to try that one. This one I just had on hand and I thought it would hold the melted parmesan cheese well. Tender pasta, garlicy broccoli rabe, hot Italian sausage in a light parmesan sauce: all sounds good to me. Make the first bite count!


Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4-6

3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
4-5 Italian sausage links (sweet or hot)
1/2 pound pasta (I used campanelle)
1/2 bunch broccoli rabe, stalks removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. When boiling, add a generous amount of salt to flavor the water. Cook the pasta according to the package for al dente, making sure to reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water before draining.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat in a large pot. Slice the sausage links lengthwise down the center but do not cut all the way through. Then open the sausage link like a book and place in pot. Cook about 4-5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove from pot and set aside. Cover with foil to keep warm.

3. In the large pot that the sausage was cooking, add 2 cups water and the broccoli rabe. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove cover and continue boiling for 5-7 minutes. The broccoli rabe should no longer have a bitter taste. Drain the water and remove the broccoli rabe.

4. While the broccoli rabe is cooking, slice the sausage into bite size pieces.

4. Add the remaining 2 Tablespoons of olive oil to the large pot and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and sauté in the oil for another 3-4 minutes.

5. Add the cooked pasta and sausage to the broccoli rabe and stir. Add the parmesan cheese and about 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta liquid. Stir until cheese is melted. If pasta is still too dry, add more pasta liquid. Serve hot.

What’s for Dinner? Week of September 1, 2013


There was a little gap in the menus, but I’m back on track now.  School is about to start up and I have been prepping my lesson plans and seating charts for the upcoming year.  Getting back on a schedule will definitely be a good thing for me.  I don’t know about you, but I seem to get more accomplished throughout the day when I have a schedule of events to follow.  My husband and I are continuing our date night tradition and this past week we went to Miyako, a great BYOB sushi place in one of the beach towns near us.  We ordered gyoza (pork fried dumplings), spicy tuna rolls, Godzilla rolls, and my husband ordered 2 pieces of fresh tuna to start.  Everything was delicious and we have already planned to go back soon.  It’s a little sad to see summer slowly end but I am also excited about the fall with football games and pumpkins and cooler weather.  The menu this week reflects some great dishes that will certainly be making appearances again this fall.

When planning dinners, one great way to get ideas for the week is to link meals together.  What can you make one night where the leftovers can be used on another night?  That’s what I tried to do this week.   Whenever I make tomato sauce (or gravy as my grandmother used to call it) I always make extra.  The same goes for meatballs.  Must be the Italian in me to make plenty of extra food.  Anyway, I planned to have pasta and meatballs one night and then use the meatballs again for another meal, Meatball Sandwiches.  If you are ever having difficulty coming up with ideas for the entire week, see if you can make the leftovers from one night into something new and delicious another night.  Make the first bite count!


Sunday – Rigatoni and Meatballs in Tomato Sauce | Salad | Fresh Italian Bread

Monday – Chicken Marsala with Angel Hair Pasta | Roasted Parmesan Broccoli

Tuesday – Meatball Sandwiches | Salad

WednesdayDate Night!

ThursdayChicken Divan


Dinner Menu for Week of 7/28/2013

While attempting to organize all the recipes I have into one place, I am hoping this blog is helping all those out there who are stuck on what to make for dinner. I hope this blog not only gives inspiration on what to make tonight, but also helps motivate you to plan your meals for the week. You will not only find dinners become stress-free when everyone in the family knows what to expect but it can save you money as well by only having to make one shopping trip a week.

If there is something on this week’s menu you just are not in the mood for, feel free to look through past menus for more ideas. Menu planning is my passion, so I hope to pass the same enthusiasm on to you, the incredible readers 🙂

This week, there are 4 meals presented. This is because during the summer, my husband and I take advantage of all the beach towns near us that have fantastic restaurants only open during one season. This week we took a trip to Long Beach Island, a place I’ve known and loved since I can remember. We had terrific seafood at a place called Beach Haven Fishery. We ordered clam strips, fried shrimp and blush shrimp (essentially shrimp scampi with roasted tomatoes) and it was all delicious. The remaining meals for the week were inspired by my fabulously fried eggplant and me wanting to experiment with homemade pasta. It was a great experience, and the taste was divine, I encourage you to try it. Hope you find something delicious to make for dinner. Make the first bite count!

MondayEggplant Parmesan and salad

TuesdayCheesy, Spicy Ground Venison Pasta

Wednesday – Seafood Dinner Out 🙂

ThursdayHomemade Cheese Ravioli with Tomato Cream Sauce

FridayGrilled London Broil with Rosemary Mushroom Sauce and Twice Baked Potatoes with Broccoli