Weeknight-Friendly & Restaurant-Worthy – A New Favorite Easy Pasta Recipe!
It’s no secret that my truest culinary love in life is pasta. I’ve said it time & time again – there’s nothing I love more than a good pasta dish & pasta recipes are my absolute favorite to develop! & this Creamy Marsala Pasta with Spicy Italian Sausage & Mushrooms? It just so happens to be one of my all-time favorite recipes we’ve ever shared here on PWWB. It’s very much inspired by one of my favorite pasta dishes to come out of the kitchen at the Italian restaurant where I worked for a few years out of college – it is gooooooood on all levels!
Despite calling for just a handful of simple ingredients & being a 35-minute recipe, this easy pasta recipe is seriously flavorful & satisfying. Browned Italian sausage & deeply caramelized onions provide the rich base of flavor off of which an easy, homemade marsala pasta sauce is built, pan sauce-style. The result is a pasta dish with the perfect balance of savory, spicy, & subtly sweet flavor. Finish it with a handful of toasted walnuts for an extra pop of satisfying texture & a showering of freshly grated parmesan? So good!
We first shared this creamy marsala pasta on PWWB way back in 2017. We’re revisiting it today with improved recipe instructions & updated photography because it makes for such a special meal, whether you’re looking for a quick weeknight dinner or something special for date night or girls night in. It’s one of my all-time favorites – I know you’re going to love it too!
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Creamy Marsala Pasta Recipe Highlights
You will LOVE this Creamy Marsala Pasta with Spicy Italian Sausage & Mushrooms because it’s…
- SERIOUSLY RICH & FLAVORFUL! Thanks to a flavor-forward lineup of ingredients, this easy pasta recipe has the perfect balance of spicy-subtly sweet-savory flavor.
- SUPER QUICK. Despite its rich & bold flavors, this easy pasta dish comes together super quickly & easily, in 35 minutes or less. Plus, the homemade marsala pasta sauce is a pan sauce, meaning there are minimal dishes to wash!
- A RESTAURANT-WORTHY MEAL. I have a feeling it’ll be one of the best pasta dinners you’ve ever made at home – seriously!
Classic Italian comfort does not get better than that! ♡ Read on to learn more about this Creamy Marsala Pasta, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!
Marsala Pasta Key Ingredients
Like the best classic Italian meals, this creamy marsala pasta recipe is all about giving humble yet flavor-forward ingredients a little TLC to create a totally special, showstopping meal.
Note: full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
The key ingredients in this creamy marsala pasta recipe include…
- Pasta – Of course! I prefer making this creamy pasta dish with a short, tubular pasta, like rigatoni. The chunky bits of mushroom, sausage, & walnut get trapped inside, making each bite really textural & flavorful. Orecchiette, shellbows, casarecce, & radiatori are also all great options for a similar reason.
- Italian sausage – I love using spicy Italian sausage since the slight kick of heat is a nice counterbalance to the natural sweetness of marsala wine, though you can easily use mild or sweet – whatever you like most!
- Mushrooms – Cremini mushrooms, which are also known as “baby bellas,” are my favorite mushrooms for everyday cooking. Feel free to use regular ol’ white mushrooms if that’s what you have on hand.
- Walnuts – A surprising secret ingredient, which adds wonderful hearty texture to this creamy marsala pasta. Feel free to omit if you’re not a fan or if you’re allergic!
- Simple aromatics – Namely a yellow onion & some garlic to add plenty of flavor to the base of the marsala wine sauce.
- Dry marsala wine – The star ingredient in any marsala pasta! Marsala wine is one of my favorite ingredients to cook with. If you’ve not yet tried it, you’re in for such a treat! Wondering ‘What is Marsala Wine?’ Learn more about it below!
Ingredient Spotlight ⇢ What is Marsala Wine?
Marsala is a fortified wine, meaning it is a wine that is “fortified” with a distilled spirit. Port, sherry, & vermouth are other popular fortified wines you might recognize. Marsala is an Italian fortified wine, made with grapes indigenous to Sicily & most often fortified with brandy. It tastes beautifully sweet-savory, with amazing notes of rich caramel & vanilla. While often used in cooking here in the U.S., marsala can also be enjoyed as a sipping wine before or after a meal, similar to how you’d enjoy a nice port.
Some Marsala Wine FAQs:
- Is marsala wine red or white? Both! Gold & amber marsala are made with white wine grapes while ruby marsala is made with red wine grapes. The common thread amongst the three types is all marsala wine is made with Italian grapes indigenous to Sicily.
- Dry vs Sweet? Marsala wine comes in both dry & sweet varieties. You can cook with both, though I like to cook with dry marsala since the sweetness of sweet marsala can sometimes overpower a savory dish.
- Where to buy marsala wine? Here’s the deal. Please don’t buy “cooking marsala” from the grocery store! They’re typically not of great quality, & in a dish like pork marsala, the flavor in the wine is what provides the signature flavor of the marsala sauce. Instead, look in the fortified wine section at your favorite wine or liquor shop. Marsala labeled “Fine” (fino) or “Superior” is great for cooking.
- Best marsala substitute: If you cannot find marsala, the closest substitute for cooking is Madiera, a Portuguese fortified wine with similar flavor profiles to marsala. If you prefer not to use wine, you can substitute with cooking stock – fair warning, your dish will be tasty, but it will not taste like marsala.
How to Make Marsala Pasta Sauce:
What makes this recipe really special is the homemade marsala pasta sauce. It’s a pan sauce so, despite being quick & easy to make, it’s really flavorful, picking up all of the richness coaxed out of rich Italian sausage & earthy mushrooms. Plus, it has the best rich & creamy texture & the perfect balance of savory-sweet flavor thanks to the caramelly notes in the marsala wine.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
How to make marsala pasta sauce:
- Toast the walnuts: Add the walnuts to a skillet & cook for a few minutes, just until toasty & fragrant. Why? ⇢ Toasting draws out the walnuts’ natural oils, making them even more fragrant & flavorful.
- Brown the sausage & aromatics: Brown the Italian sausage in a little olive oil, then do the same with the onion & mushrooms. Take time to let each component brown thoroughly, to the point that they almost begin to caramelize. Why? ⇢ Browning the sausage & veggies creates a foundation of rich flavor for this marsala pasta sauce, which is so important! Since it’s a pan sauce, we rely on the browned bits that develop on the bottom of the pan (i.e. fond) throughout this process, as they create a flavorful base for the marsala pan sauce.
- Make the marsala pasta sauce: Deglaze the pan by slowly pouring in the marsala wine, using a wooden spoon to scrape up all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Once the wine is almost cooked off, finish the sauce by stirring in some chicken stock & heavy cream. Why? ⇢ The wine creates steam as it hits the hot pan, releasing the browned bits (i.e. fond) on the bottom of the pan. This is where the flavor is, so you want to scrape it up to incorporate it into the marsala sauce.
Bringing it All Together – Creamy Marsala Pasta:
With the marsala pasta sauce prepped & ready to go, all that’s left is tossing it into pasta – easy!
Remember, al dente pasta should always cook with sauce for a couple of minutes on the stovetop. The #1 mistake I see home chefs make when they serve a pasta dish is opting to simply plop the prepared sauce atop a pile of pasta – please don’t do this! By finishing the pasta with the sauce, the two separate components come together as one cohesive dish. If you feel like your pasta never turns out as good as it does in a restaurant, this simple step helps tremendously!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Finishing Your Creamy Marsala Pasta:
- Boil pasta: Cook your pasta of choice in generously salted water, just until the pasta reaches al dente. Before draining the pasta, carefully dip a liquid measuring cup into the pot to reserve about 1 cup of the starchy pasta water. Drain the pasta, but do NOT rinse it. Why? ⇢ Rinsing washes the starchy goodness off the surface of the pasta, preventing it from absorbing & clinging to the creamy marsala pasta sauce.
- Toss, toss, toss!: Add the cooked pasta, browned sausage, & toasted walnuts to the skillet with the creamy marsala pasta sauce, then toss to combine well. Adjust as needed so the marsala pasta sauce evenly coats the pasta. If the mixture is too thick, toss in a little of the reserved pasta water to thin it out; if the mixture is too loose, toss in an extra handful of parmesan cheese to thicken it up. Cook for a couple minutes more, allowing the pasta to meld with & absorb some of the sauce.
Marsala Pasta Serving Suggestions:
Just like that – no more than 25 minutes later! – you’re ready to serve! Portion the creamy marsala pasta into your favorite pasta bowls & finish with your toppings of choice. We typically keep it pretty simple with a light sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes & a generous dusting of freshly grated parmesan.
From there, the only thing missing is some wine! As far as wine pairings go, I love serving pasta with Italian wine. For this marsala sauce, try a dry red wine with nice acidity. Nebbiolo, which is native to Northern Italy & comparable to a nice Pinot Noir, isn’t too heavy but has nice tannins & beautiful acidity that complement marsala sauce very nicely. If you like a slightly bolder wine, try Montelpuciano d’Abruzzo. It’s also dry & acidic, but it’s slightly earthier, which is a nice complement to the mushrooms & walnuts in this creamy marsala pasta.
I can’t wait for you to try this Creamy Marsala Pasta! It’s a long-time favorite here on PWWB, & I know you’re going to love it just as much as we do. If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡
More Recipes Like This:
Quick & Cozy Pasta Recipes
With the perfect balance of spicy-subtly sweet-savory flavor, this Creamy Marsala Pasta is an all-time favorite! Spicy Italian sausage & deeply caramelized mushrooms tossed into your pasta of choice with the best creamy marsala sauce. The secret ingredient? – a handful of toasted walnuts, which add surprising, satisfying meaty texture.
- 8 ounces rigatoni or short pasta of choice
- heaping ½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped
- 1–2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound bulk spicy Italian sausage (or mild, as desired)
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 16 ounces cremini (baby bella) mushrooms, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
- optional: up to 1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
- 1 cup dry marsala wine (see Recipe Notes)
- ½ cup chicken stock or broth
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- heaping ⅓ 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.
Prep note: Once you begin cooking, this marsala pasta comes together very quickly! I suggest you start by getting all of the chopping, measuring & other prep odds & ends out of the way so cooking is a smooth process: dice the onion, slice the mushrooms, chop the garlic, measure your liquid ingredients, etc. Place everything within an arm’s reach from the stovetop.
- Boil the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, generously salt the water. Add the pasta and cook to al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water. Drain the pasta and set aside.
- Toast the walnuts: Meanwhile, as the pasta boils, toast the walnuts. Add the walnuts to a medium skillet over medium heat. Toast, monitoring closely & shaking occasionally to prevent burning, for 3-4 minutes, just until toasty & fragrant. Transfer toasted walnuts to a plate & set aside. Carefully wipe out the skillet & return to medium heat.
- Brown the Italian sausage: Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the same skillet used to toast the walnuts in Step 2, increasing the heat to medium-high . Once hot & shimmering, add in the Italian sausage. Cook 5-6 minutes, until browned & rendered, using a wooden spoon to break the sausage into fine bite-sized crumbles as it cooks. If the sausage starts to brown too quickly, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low. Once browned, transfer the sausage to a plate & set aside.
- Cook the aromatics: If needed, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet. Once hot & shimmering, add in the yellow onion & cremini mushrooms. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper, as desired. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions & mushrooms soften & begin to caramelize – this will take 8-10 minutes as we’re after nice, browned color. Stir in the garlic & crushed red chili flakes (if using) & cook for an additional minute or so, until fragrant.
- Build the creamy marsala sauce: Deglaze the pan by slowly pouring in the marsala wine & chicken stock. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that may have formed on the bottom of the pan. Add in the browned sausage & toasted walnuts, stirring to combine. Bring everything to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium or medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer. Stir in the heavy cream & grated parmesan. Cook 3-4 minutes more, stirring occasionally, to allow everything to meld together. At this point, the pasta should be ready to drain.
- Finish the pasta marsala: Add the pasta to the skillet. Toss to coat with the creamy marsala sauce. Adjust as needed so the marsala sauce evenly coats the pasta – if the mixture is too thick, toss in a little reserved pasta water; if the mixture is too loose, toss in an extra handful of parmesan cheese, etc. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, allowing the pasta to meld with & absorb some of the sauce. Remove from the heat.
- Serve immediately, topped with additional grated parmesan, chopped basil or parsley, &/or a sprinkling of crushed red pepper, as desired. Enjoy!
- Marsala is a fortified wine, meaning it is a wine that is “fortified” with a distilled spirit, most often fortified with brandy. It has amazing rich caramelly & vanilla notes & is wonderful to cook with. You should be able to find marsala in the fortified wine section at your favorite wine or liquor shop. Marsala labeled “Fine” (fino) or “Superior” is great for cooking. If you cannot find marsala, the closest substitute for this recipe is Madiera, a Portuguese fortified wine with similar flavor profiles to marsala.
- Storage & Reheating: Leftover creamy marsala pasta will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave until warmed through.
- 10-Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for this creamy marsala pasta comes from prepping the veggies. Take care of this in advance & store in individual airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. It takes 10 minutes, tops, & with the prep work done, you can jump straight into cooking at dinnertime.
- Dice 1 medium yellow onion (<5 minutes active)
- Slice 16 ounces cremini (baby bella) mushrooms (~5 minutes active)
- Note: This recipe has been updated since its original publish in February 2017. If you are looking for the original recipe, which included roasted sausage, click here to download a printable version!
Keywords: pasta marsala, pasta recipes, Italian recipes, comfort food recipes
Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.