Whip Smart Kitchen

Recipes, methods & musings for the whip-smart home cook

Pasta

Cheesy Fusilli with Tomatoes and Sausage

Dinner, Comfort Food, Italian, Pasta, RecipeLeannda CavalierComment

Pasta in a creamy parmesan sauce, topped with roasted tomatoes, spicy sausage and nutty arugula. Simple enough to throw together tonight, flavorful enough to make again for company this weekend.

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My mouth is watering. Jump to the recipe, please!

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions or want more info!

I've had a whole lot to celebrate lately. Between the little girl we're expecting in November and all the excitement that comes with planning, visits with loved ones, and a slew of weddings—including three of my bridesmaids: my bonus sister Marie and two of my best friends since childhood, Kaitlynn (of The Keto Show) and Hannah—it's been an incredible whirlwind season of life!

Everyone should have a go-to special occasion recipe. Cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage is one of our favorites of all time. Don't get me wrong, we switch things up all the time and I love to try out new dishes, but this is the one I know I can make from memory—grocery store to plate.

This is the one I make for my husband's birthday. This is the one I make when we're celebrating small victories. This is the one I make when we need a little extra homey comfort. 

It's evolved a lot over the years. I started making a version it in college because the most of the ingredients were affordable, and I learned at an early age that keeping parmesan in the fridge was a priority. The technique is a little more sound now, but the roots are the same. 

Cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage is perfect for summer when you've got fresh grape tomatoes all over the place, but guess what? Grape tomatoes are also some of the best to go for year round. They keep well and smaller tomatoes don't need as many resources as larger varieties to be packed with juicy flavor.

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I made cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage a few weeks ago because pregnancy cravings pretty much demanded it. Whenever I make it, I like to do this thing where I just happen to not mention what I'm making to Adam until he figures it out on his own—usually around the time he smells the sausage and sees me piling on the arugula with a mound of fresh grated cheese on the cutting board.

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You'd think it would get old after 8-ish years, but nope! The reaction is always so worth it. Huge smile, high-pitched questions ("Good smells— wait, is this what I think it is?!"), fist pump and the only kind of hovering from another grown adult I can tolerate. It's like I brought home a winning lottery ticket. It's the best

After we finished eating, Adam asked if I would post this recipe for his birthday this year. That's in October. I thought about it and realized this is a pretty great summer recipe with all the cherry tomatoes bursting onto the scene right about now. I asked if he'd mind if I made it again that week to post this month.

He didn't take long to answer yes, but there was one condition. He wanted me to tell you it has a good mouthfeel (too much Food Network?), and... I mean, he's not wrong! Between the creamy cheese sauce, al dente pasta, acidic tomatoes, fatty sausage and the arugula to lighten it all up? Yeah. 

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So there you go. Good mouthfeel.

Another major perk of this recipe is just how EASY it is to make. It looks like it takes a lot of work, but really it comes together in about 25 minutes if you just prep the ingredients ahead. It might take you a little longer if you're a beginner and cutting still takes a while, but hey, all the more reason to in some practice with your knife!

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Nervous about making a cheese sauce? Don't be. 

Like a lot of my favorite recipes, you can learn how to make other dishes without realizing it too. Sneaky education is my favorite kind. If you can make one cheese sauce, you can make lots of cheese sauces. Just try out different cheeses, liquids and seasonings and you can make hundreds of totally different pastas or toppings, all your own. 

This one doesn't use a roux, which I think is great for two reasons: 

  1. It shows there are lots of ways to make a tasty cheese sauce.
  2. It gives you some low-stakes practice in moving quickly with heat and cheese, because if you want to cook at home often and easily, you probably should learn to make a roux at some point. It's really not as complicated as it seems as long as you have everything ready. Make this first to get your cooking confidence meter nice and high.
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Why use Fusilli in this recipe?

You could definitely use other types of pasta for this recipe, and if already you have most of the ingredients I wouldn't send you to the store just for this, but I do think fusilli is the best choice here.

Fusilli (foo-silly) is a corkscrew shaped pasta, and all those nooks and crannies do a great job of holding onto the cheese without making it pool like shell-shaped pasta might, for instance. But here we're trying to get it to hold onto two different textures: the smooth sauce and the chunky tomato and sausage topping. The spiral shape of the noodles does a nice job of keeping both in check on the plate and, more importantly, on your fork. 

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If you can get your hands on it, I really recommend trying cheesy fusilli with tomatoes and sausage with fusilli bucati noodles. It's basically the same thing, except the noodles are hollow, which adds a fun new texture into the mix. They're a little harder to find (which is why I didn't use them here), but I see them in my regular grocery store on occasion.

You could even use fusilli bucati lunghi if you're trying to check all your pasta shape boxes. They're just super long fusilli bucati noodles you can sometimes find in stores with specialty Italian products. Warning: they will break apart as you cook and eat—so not a lot of twirling action—but they're still fun!

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Funny story, I took the photos for this post before our vacation home to West Virginia in late June/early July so I wouldn't fall too far behind, and I've already made it once since then. My bonus parents came to us with some projects around the house to get ready for baby, and hey, we needed to eat! And celebrate!

It's too late for us hopeless pasta addicts. Don't send help. Join the cheesy side

So what's your go-to dish when you've got something to celebrate? Let me know in the comments! If you don't have one yet, I'm happy to share this one ;)

And hey, if you make this, show it off! Let me know by sharing a photo with the hashtag #whipsmartkitchen and tagging me on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter! You can also use the "tried it" feature on Pinterest to encourage other pinners to give it a go.

So let's get fusilli!

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Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce with Gnocchi

Dinner, Comfort Food, Italian, Recipe, Sauces, Winter, Pasta, VegetarianLeannda Cavalier4 Comments

A rich, creamy pasta sauce with sweet onions, savory tomatoes, peppery seasonings and sharp parmesan. This sauce is versatile and easy to throw together with things you probably already have. 

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means I get a small commission if you buy products I recommend at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products I believe in from companies I believe in—either I use them myself or I've at least done thorough research and vetting. Please reach out if you have any questions!

My belly is growling. Jump to the recipe, please!

Have you ever noticed how much colder it feels when it's already been warm and the temperature dips back down? I've been walking around for weeks without needing a coat, and it's SNOWING today! My body is reacting like it's sub-zero in my nearly 70º house. I'm dealing. 

So on a shivery, grey day what better to warm up with than a hearty plate of gnocchi?

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I got the idea for this recipe while shopping at one of my favorite health food stores after a long day out in Knoxville. I was so tired, but I really wanted to eat well that night. Knowing I had a good hour-long drive home, I was looking for convenience food, but like, good convenience food. Something I would feel good about eating and re-eating for lunch the next day.

I settled on a few different kinds of frozen ravioli you can buy in bulk—red pepper eggplant, spinach ricotta, one with sausage, I think—and some vegetables. So I just needed a sauce.

I wandered over to the refrigerated section where they have fresh sauces I always want to try, and saw this incredible-looking vidalia onion sauce that REALLY pulled me in. I could smell it. I could taste it. I was ready to drink it. But it was too expensive for me to justify at that moment.

Listen, I’m not above spending nearly $8 on a little jar of sauce I want to try, but I was already almost over my grocery budget and the ravioli was reasonable, but not exactly cheap. Plus, I knew I could make it at home. I mentally noted the color and texture of the sauce, glanced at the description on the jar and made a plan. 

The best part? I already had all the ingredients. In fact I always have these ingredients, and if you cook often, you likely do too. 

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This sauce goes great with gnocchi texturally because while it’s thick, it’s pretty smooth. It wraps around the ravioli like the edible manifestation of a bear hug. Beyond that soft, pillowy gnocchi makes a tasty canvas for the sweet and savory flavor of this Roasted Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce.

This Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce is super easy to make, and it comes together pretty quickly. It's going to be really great for you if you aren't a fan of doing a lot of chopping, or if you're just too tired to do a bunch of that tonight—which I totally get. It's the reason I thought about buying the sauce in the first place!

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The plan I made in the store was pretty simple, and I was pretty sure I could knock it out in about half an hour. I just needed to roast some sweet onions until they were a little caramelly, and incorporate them into a simple tomato sauce. 

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Like I said, I was pretty worn out, and besides, roasting the onions whole seemed like the way to go. So what to do? Bring out the blender. It honestly made things go so quickly. I just simmered the tomatoes while the onions were in the oven, added everything to the blender, and voila! 

Beautiful sauce that tasted like a lot more work went into it.

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Now for some salt, fat, acid and heat action. A little honey, red pepper flakes, white wine vinegar, basil parmesan cheese and cream go in to build a sauce that tastes like it came from a restaurant (or an $8 jar at a health food store). 

Whirrrrrrr it up.

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I’ve also tried the sauce with pork loin (amazing) and I’m sure it would go with chicken or steak. Probably even with some seafoods like mussels or scallops. It would work well with long noodles such as spaghetti or linguine, with ravioli or other stuffed pastas—really with just about any pasta.

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I have mixed feelings on the “rules” of pasta. I get the point. Pesto goes will with pastas it can stick to rather than pool in. Pastas with hollow shapes are going to go well with sauces they can scoop up like tasty little spoons. The thing is, some people have hard and fast rules just for authenticity’s sake.

I think authenticity has a time and a place, and I can appreciate it. On the other hand, if I want bolognese sauce and only have angel hair on hand, I’m not going to the store just for authenticity’s sake. Besides, why shut down creativity or experimentation? 

Personally, I think it’s worth knowing the rules—if only so you can break them mindfully. 

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There's something so satisfying about knowing you made it yourself, right? 

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Oh, hey, and it's Lenten Friday friendly! I swear I didn't intend to post a chicken recipe on a Friday last time. 

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P.S. If you ever need help with a recipe or have a question, please reach out. I'd love to help!

Did you make this recipe? Take a picture and let me know! You can always tag me and hashtag #whipsmartkitchen on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook (links below), or use the tried it feature on Pinterest.

Until then I'll be here trying to warm up, and hoping all our flowers still bloom and plums and grapes still come in, unlike last year after a 75º February and a bunch of cold snaps. Give me something to look forward to here. 

Let's get roasting!

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Nutrition Facts for Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce (without Gnocchi and Kale)

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Nutrition Facts for Gnocchi with Sweet Onion Tomato Sauce and Kale

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Ravioli with pea pesto sauce

Adaptable for Vegetarians, Italian, Recipe, Sauces, Pasta, Dinner, Winter, SpringLeannda CavalierComment

I'm in a hurry. Jump to the recipe, please. 

Since the beginning of the year, I've been cleaning out my kitchen to make things organized, clean and fresh. It's something I highly recommend, and I try to do it every few months.  

If you're like me, you probably find a lot of odds and ends you forgot about when you clean out your freezer. Half a cup of mango with freezer burn. Overripe bananas you meant to bake into bread. Things you froze to avoid wasting... and end up having to throw away because you kept it too long. 

Maybe you even have some UFOs—unidentified frozen objects. 

I've gotten a little better about this over the last few years. This time around I did find a few things I wanted to get rid of to make room for new additions, so I've been planing ways to use them up. 

One of those things was bag of peas leftover from making vegetable soup. They were still good, but a little past their prime. I happened to have some pesto in the fridge and some sausage ravioli in the freezer, so I decided to make a pea pesto cream sauce.

I'm gonna be honest with you here. It was SO much better than I thought it was going to be. Isn't it magical when that happens? It was rich and cheesy, but somehow bright and fresh. The basil and lemon juice gave the old peas new life. 

About that frozen ravioli...

As much as I shout to the rooftops about homemade being best and unprocessed foods, I believe processed foods do have their place. 

One of the staples of my freezer is frozen pasta, and I love to pick up refrigerated pasta from the grocery store every once in a while. You can get shockingly good store bought ravioli and tortellini these days. Some of my favorite selections are at Earth Fare, Trader Joes, and sometimes Sam's Club. Even the store in my small town has a decent selection.

I can think of few things that taste better than homemade pasta, and I still believe homemade is best... but making it takes time, counter space, and patience. I recommend you try it at some point. If you do, I think you'll realize it's not a mythical feat.

That being said, I'm not here to judge you if you buy it pre-packaged.

When you buy, just read the label and make the best choices you can. Here are a few common-sense guidelines on what to look for:

  • Refrigerated pasta with a close expiration date is a good sign, as it probably doesn't rely heavily on preservatives. The shorter the shelf-life, the more likely it is that valuable nutrients haven't been removed or altered to make them last longer. Read the packaging to see whether it mentions the use (or lack) of preservatives.
  • Pasta made in-store or locally was likely made recently (maybe even that day) with high-quality, whole ingredients. The more minimally processed and less transport, the better.
  • If it's made in small batches, even better. This suggests a person made it and that the recipe was created for quality, not manufactured for the masses.
  • Check for standard nutrition information such as sodium and sugar content, as that can be a drawback of processed food. 
  • Pay attention to how many ingredients there are, and how many you don't recognize or can't pronounce. This isn't gospel, but the more there are, the more processed it probably is.
  • Bonus points if the ingredients are local and don't include antibiotics or added hormones. 

All that being said, if it looks good and you want to eat it...

Do it! Even if it doesn't meet the above criteria. Just don't eat it every night and you'll be fine.

Being aware of what you're eating and making the best choices possible is great, but a bit of pre-made of pasta every once in a while isn't going to automatically give you cardiovascular/metabolic disease (or make you fat). Just be sensible. Don't overdo it or rely on it. 

When you eat it, don't feel guilty. Eat it slowly, savor every bite and appreciate it. 

Now, let's get cooking.

Now that I've shared, it's your turn! Tell me what role processed foods play in your life. Do you try to stick to minimally processed or unprocessed foods? Do you not care either way? Is this something you think about?  I'm so curious to know your thoughts, so let me know in the comments. 

If you make this dish, let me know! Leave a comment below, or post it on Instagram and mention @leanndacavalier and #whipsmartkitchen! I want to see you get cooking!