a comforting marsala pasta, with rigatoni noodles tossed into a creamy marsala pan sauce with spicy italian sausage & mushrooms. marsala pasta is cozy enough for a date night with bae on the sofa (& totally guy-approved!), but also easy & elegant enough to throw together for a spontaneous weeknight dinner with friends. paired with a big, hearty red wine, this marsala pasta will have you ditching the reservations & enjoying a pasta feast from home!
happy valentine’s day!! do you have super special valentine’s plans tonight?
chris & i aren’t doing anything crazy today because we celebrated over the weekend with an ultimate saturday dinner date at home. nights like valentine’s are always fun to use as an excuse to get fancied up & go out on a date, but honestly, celebrating special occasions at a restaurant or out on the town usually ends up being overpriced, over-crowded, & rushed.
& i love dating my hubby from home. we usually make a ourselves a couple of cocktails to enjoy while we cook dinner & eat together while snuggled up on the sofa watching a movie on netflix (that probably took us 2 hours to agree on #marriage). it’s relaxing, cozy, & (i think!) romantic.
plus…our sofa is pretty damn comfy. so there’s that…
this year for valentine’s, i made chris a pasta dinner that reminds me of him through & through: spicy italian sausage & mushrooms with a rich marsala cream sauce.
this is a recipe i’ve had in my back pocket for awhile. it is inspired by one of the most popular dishes that came out of the kitchen of the italian restaurant where i worked for a few years after college.
perfect for a cozy sofa date night. & better yet, since it requires only simple ingredients & 30-minutes tops to pull together from start to finish, marsala pasta is also easy & elegant enough to serve for friends for an impromptu weeknight dinner party.
like most things in italian cooking, marsala pasta only calls for very simple ingredients, but using slightly higher quality options will make all the difference in the world when it comes to the flavor of your finished dish.
i opted for spicy sausage from whole foods, organic baby bella mushrooms, &, for perfect texture, a nice & thick rigatoni from delallo.
a common misconception about pasta is that its shape doesn’t matter since they all taste pretty similar, especially once dried. & for the record, that is SO false. the rigatoni’s tubular shape & small ridges make it PERFECT to catch all of the delicious marsala cream sauce. it’s an important detail that definitely makes a huge difference.
the real beauty of pasta marsala is that it comes together pretty quickly. the sausage bakes off in the oven while the pasta boils to the perfect al dente texture, & in the meantime, the onions, garlic, & chili flakes that make up the aromatic base of the marsala sauce are sautéed together.
once the aromatics are softened, the sausage & mushrooms are added & seared until deeply brown & flavorful. the marsala sauce comes together quickly as a pan sauce: the sausage & mushrooms are deglazed with sweet & earthy marsala wine, which is balanced with a hearty splash of heavy cream.
marsala pasta is simply finished with a quick toss of the pasta & a generous sprinkle of parmesan, & you’ll have yourself (seriously) one of the best pasta dinners you’ve ever made at home.
despite having only come together in less than 30 minutes, the marsala pan sauce is intensely flavored. the caramelly-sweet notes of the wine are offset by the creamy richness of the heavy cream & the bold spices in the italian sausage. earthy mushrooms & perfectly al dente pasta add the perfect chew that makes this dish hearty & satisfying despite its simplicity.
the only thing missing is some wine!
as far as wine pairings go, i talked about the wine we paired on my instagram stories over the weekend (be sure to follow along with @playswellwithbutter on ig!), but in case you missed it, you’ll want a bold, hearty red to pair with the rich & earthy flavors of this marsala pasta. a big, dry red will have the tannins that cut through the rich creaminess of the marsala sauce.
i opted for a montelpuciano d’abruzzo, an italian red produced in central italy that delivers on the boldness & the dryness that pairs best with marsala, but it also tends to be a little earthier – perfect for complementing those mushrooms. montelpuciano d’abruzzos are great for any cabernet lover looking to expand their tastes in italian wines (but a cab would make a fantastic pairing with this pasta, too!).
pasta (check). wine (check). hubby (check). major valentine’s day win!Print
- 1 pound spicy Italian sausage links (or mild, as desired)
- 8 ounces dried rigatoni or short pasta of choice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
- 1–2 teaspoons crushed red chili flakes
- 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
- heaping ½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- ½ cup dry marsala wine
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup grated parmesan
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- for serving, as desired: grated parmesan or pecorino romano, finely chopped basil or parsley, crushed red pepper flakes, etc.
- Roast the sausage: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil for easy clean-up. Place the sausage links on the prepared baking sheet. Transfer to the oven to bake off for 10 minutes. The sausage may not be fully cooked through at this point – that’s totally fine. Remove from the oven & allow to rest for 1-2 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, thinly slice the sausage on a bias and set aside.
- Cook the pasta: Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, according to package directions until al dente. Use a liquid measuring cup to reserve about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water. Drain the pasta and set aside (do not rinse the pasta!!!).
- Sweat the onion: Meanwhile, begin cooking the marsala pan sauce. Add the olive oil to a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add in the onion, stirring to combine. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened & translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic & chili flake. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
- Brown the sausage: Add the sliced sausage from Step 1 to the skillet, arranging the slices in such a way that they cover the bottom of the skillet. Cook 1-2 minutes, until browned, before flipping to brown the opposite side. Add mushrooms & walnuts on top of sausage. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, until the sausage is browned, the mushrooms have softened slightly, & the walnuts are toasty.
- Deglaze & make the marsala pan sauce: Slowly pour the marsala into the skillet, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that may have formed on the bottom of the skillet. Bring the sauce up to a simmer to reduce slightly. While stirring constantly, slowly pour in the heavy cream & sprinkle in the grated parmesan. Reduce the heat to low. Let the sauce simmer to reduce slightly.
- Assemble the marsala pasta: Add the pasta into the skillet with the marsala pan sauce. Toss to combine well – the sauce should evenly coat the pasta. Add in some of the reserved pasta water if the marsala sauce needs to loosen up a little; add in an extra handful of parmesan if the sauce needs to tighten up a little. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, allowing the pasta to meld with & absorb some of the sauce.
- Serve immediately: Portion into individual pasta bowls, topping with extra parmesan, chopped herbs, &/or a sprinkling of crushed red pepper as desired. Enjoy!
- Not a fan of spicy? No worries! Simply swap out spicy sausage with mild or sweet Italian sausage & omit chili flake.
- 10-minute meal prep: All of the prep time involved in this recipe is chopping veggies. Chop all the veggies in advance, storing individually in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. At dinnertime all you have to do is get cookin’ – seriously so easy!:
- Dice 1 medium yellow onion
- Wash & slice 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms
Keywords: pasta marsala, pasta recipes, Italian recipes, comfort food recipes
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