Some food memories leave an indelible print on your mind, instead of fading with the passing of time the memory seems to grow stronger. I first had this Tuscan Pasta in a quaint little restaurant called Tuscany’s located near my hometown. I think it was my first experience with any Italian food outside of the American version of spaghetti, and I was was instantly hooked for life.
Ever since that first bite of true Italian style pasta, their cuisine has been my favorite. And even though I haven’t had that Tuscan Pasta dish in at least 15 years, I still think about it all time. This pasta was also my first introduction to the concept of fine dining, to which I was also instantly hooked. But since I’ve never had the budget to support that particular habit, I tend to come home from an occasional evening out, and jot down some notes so that I can recreate it later at home.
We have a long standing tradition to try and have an ‘at home date night’ once a week where we make something fancy-ish (but still easy) that gives you the feeling of a restaurant entrée. The 2 things we make the most often because they’re so easy is a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad or some sort of pasta dish. Pasta is also one of my favorite things to make when we’re entertaining because you can usually prep the sauce ahead of time, and just reheat it when you toss it with freshly cooked pasta.
This pasta dish is perfect for any occasion from a date night with lots of leftovers, to entertaining. It’s loaded with veggies and Italian sausage, so all you really need is a side salad and dessert. If you’re looking to go all out, you can start with my Antipasto Platter, (which can also be made ahead).
Make-Ahead Menu for and Impressive Dinner:
Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Italian Sausage
Even though my Italian sausage comes pre-cooked, I like to give a quick sear to give it that caramelized flavor.
To dice the onion, start by cutting off both ends and peeling away the tough outer layer. Next slice it in half from the top to the bottom. Take each half standing them on their ends and make 2-3 vertical slices from the top almost to the core, but not cutting through the bottom.
Then lay each half flat side down on the cutting board, and slice across the rounded tops into 1/4″ strips but again not cutting all the way through the end. And finally cut across the slices to make a 1/4″ dice.
Sauté the onion until it begins to turn translucent with golden brown edges.
While the onions cook, slice both ends off the zucchini, and cut them into quarters lengthwise. Then cut across the quarters to create 1/2″ thick triangular slices. To prepare the mushrooms, I slice them 1/4″ thick, and if the mushrooms are really big I cut the slices in half to make them more bite sized.
While the veggies are cooking, prep the rest of the recipe and bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.
I like to chop up my sun-dried tomatoes into fairly small pieces so that they flavor the sauce and you don’t get any large pieces in the final dish.
Once the veggies have cooked, I throw the pasta in to boil and finish the sauce by reducing some white wine in the pan, and simmering the cream until it starts to thicken. The sauce will usually be done before the pasta finishes cooking. Right before you drain the pasta, add the sausage back to the sauce in the pan. Once the pasta is done, drain it (do not rinse) and immediately toss it in with the sauce, and simmer for 1-2 minutes to help the sauce properly cling to the pasta.
I always simmer my pasta together with my sauce, so I drain the pasta just before it’s actually done when it still is a bit firm because it finishes cooking in the sauce. You can check out my pasta post for lots more details about How to Cook Pasta Like a Pro.
Make-Ahead Tip: You can make this recipe up until this point, with the sauce completely finished, and refrigerate it until you’re ready to entertain. Then, it’s just a matter of boiling water for the pasta and simmering the 2 together before you’re finished!
I like to finish the dish with freshly grated parmesan and chopped basil. Since we’re currently under a few inches of snow, my patch of basil in the garden is toast. But I went and purchased 4 living basil plants from the store and I’m back in basil again, (you can read more about how to keep them alive with my Maintaining Living Herbs post).
If you’re looking for something indulgent to make, this pasta with it’s ultra creamy sauce, sautéed vegetables, and wonderfully savory Italian sausage is an easy way to impress!
- 1 - 12 ounce package pre-cooked Italian sausage links
- optional 1 Tablespoon olive oil, see note
- 1 small onion, 10 ounces, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 10-12 crimini mushrooms, ½ pound
- 2 medium zucchini, 1 pound
- 1 Teaspoon minced fresh thyme, stems removed
- 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, 7 ounces, finely chopped
- ½ cup white wine, or good quality chicken stock
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 - 12 ounce package gluten free pasta, I used Jovial 100% brown rice
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan
- 15 leaves fresh basil, thinly sliced, ¼ cup
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Preheat a very large skillet over medium-high heat, I used a 6.5 quart stainless steel skillet for this dish.
- Thinly slice the sausage links and sear the pieces just enough to brown them in the skillet with the olive oil. Or if you're using bulk raw sausage break it up with a wooden spoon or metal spatula, and sauté until browned and thoroughly cooked.
- Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside. Add the diced onion to the pan and sauté until the onions begin to turn translucent.
- While the onion cook, wash and slice the mushrooms. Cut off both ends from the zucchini and cut them into quarters lengthwise, then slice them crosswise into ¼" thick triangular slices.
- Add the garlic, mushrooms, and zucchini to the pan. Sauté until the veggies are just barely starting to soften. Then add the fresh thyme, sun-dried tomatoes, and white wine. Simmer until the white wine is almost gone before adding the heavy cream. Simmer the sauce on low heat for the 6-8 minutes it takes to cook the pasta.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 1 Tablespoon sea salt, and cook the pasta according to package directions. I like to take my pasta out still a bit firm so that it can finish cooking in the sauce. While the pasta cooks, grate the parmesan and thinly slice the basil leaves.
- Season the sauce to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- When the pasta is almost done but still a bit firm, drain it and add it immediately to the sauce. Simmer the sauce and pasta together over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes to help the sauce adhere to the pasta. If the sauce seems dry to you add a splash of cream or white wine to 'loosen' the sauce a bit.
- Add ½ cup of the grated parmesan to the pasta along with the basil, and serve immediately with the extra parmesan on the side to sprinkle on top.
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