Baked Ziti with Sausage

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Baked Ziti with Sausage

This baked ziti with sausage is a MAJOR family pleaser. It’s similar to meat lasagna but without the fuss, easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company, and it makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish.

Sausage Baked Ziti

People often say to my kids, “You must love having a mom who cooks all the time.” The kids jokingly lament that it’s not as great as it seems. When I’m developing recipes, we eat the same dinner for several nights in a row (whether they like it or not), and when I’m working on desserts, we order pizza. But when I was testing this sausage baked ziti and serving it night after night, absolutely no one complained; it’s a MAJOR family pleaser.

Loaded with Italian sausage, which packs a ton of flavor, it’s similar to meat lasagna without the fuss, easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company, and it also makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish. While the baked ziti is in the oven, throw together a big Italian salad and warm some bread, and a comforting, make-everyone-happy dinner is served.

What you’ll need to Make Baked Ziti with Sausage

how to make baked ziti

Before we get to the step-by-step instructions, a few words about the ingredients:

  • Ricotta cheese is a traditional addition to baked ziti, but I leave it out because it has a tendency to get dry and grainy when baked. I use heavy cream to add richness instead.
  • For the mozzarella cheese, I recommend using whole milk mozzarella; it melts beautifully. You can purchase a plastic-wrapped brick of mozzarella (pictured above and sold in the dairy case) and shred it yourself. (To make it easier to work with, pop it in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes prior to shredding.) Or, to save time time, use pre-shredded mozzarella; just be sure it is whole milk rather than low fat. Avoid fresh buffalo mozzarella, which is best suited for salads.
  • Many grocers sell bulk Italian sausage (pictured above), which is simply ground sausage without the casings. If you can’t find it, you can ask your butcher to take the meat out of the casings or do it yourself.

How to Make Baked Ziti with Sausage

Begin by boiling the ziti noodles in salted water until very al dente, about 7 minutes. (The pasta will continue to cook in the oven so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.

how to make baked ziti

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.

how to make baked ziti

Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate.

how to make baked ziti

Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don’t have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute.

how to make baked ziti

Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes and simmer for 10 minutes.

how to make baked ziti

Add the heavy cream, 1/3 cup of the Pecorino Romano, and basil to the pan.

how to make baked ziti

Then stir in the cooked sausage.

how to make baked ziti

Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine.

how to make baked ziti

Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and half of the remaining Pecorino Romano.

how to make baked ziti

Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Pecorino Romano.

how to make baked ziti

Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, about 15 minutes.

how to make baked ziti

Sprinkle with more basil and serve.

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Baked Ziti with Sausage

This baked ziti with sausage is a MAJOR family pleaser. It’s similar to meat lasagna but without the fuss, easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company, and it makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish.

Servings: 8-10
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 50 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ziti noodles
  • 1.5 lbs ground spicy or sweet Italian sausage (or removed from casings)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano) cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for serving
  • 8 oz whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti according to the package directions for very al dente, about 7 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425°F and set the oven rack in the middle position.
  3. Heat a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don't have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the heavy cream, 1/3 cup of the Pecorino Romano, cooked sausage, and basil to the pan; stir until evenly combined. Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine. Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and half of the remaining Pecorino Romano. Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Pecorino Romano. Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with more basil and serve.
  5. Make Ahead: This dish can be assembled and refrigerated, covered, up to 2 days in advance. Since the dish will be cold, the baking time will need to be increased. To bake, cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in a 425°F oven for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.
  6. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The dish can be frozen unbaked. When you’re ready to cook it, defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then proceed with the Make Ahead instructions above.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (10 servings)
  • Calories: 613
  • Fat: 38 g
  • Saturated fat: 18 g
  • Carbohydrates: 43 g
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 25 g
  • Sodium: 913 mg
  • Cholesterol: 111 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • Crowd pleaser. No one was hungry but then the entire 9×13 pan of this was gone in an hr! 🙂

    • — Anna B on September 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • This brought me back to my childhood, only this ziti was so much better than I ever had growing up.

    • — Autumn on September 22, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,

    I love your new cookbook! Could this recipe be made with half and half rather than heavy cream? For some reason, they are out of both heavy and light cream at the grocery stores near me. Thank you!

    • — Katherine on September 21, 2021
    • Reply
    • So glad you like the cookbook! 🙂
      Yes, it’s fine to use half and half here – enjoy!

      • — Jenn on September 21, 2021
      • Reply
  • I made this recipe the other night for my family. Everyone loved it! The only thing I changed was that I had to use Rigatoni noodles instead because I came home from the store with my ingredients without Ziti noodles! I just added a little extra liquid to the recipe and it was perfect! I will definitely be making again!!

    • — Jennifer on September 20, 2021
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  • This is my favourite baked pasta dish! It is easy to make and it is delicious. In addition to the cream I add some half and half or milk (whatever I have on hand) b/c I like it a bit more moist. Otherwise, I follow the recipe and it is always a hit with family and friends.

    • — Marilyne Phelps on September 20, 2021
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  • Great and super easy recipe! Very tasty 😋 Thank you!

    • — Silvie on September 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • I will be having 12 ladies for dinner. what is your recommendation on amount?

    • — Lynda on September 12, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Lynda, portions would be a bit small if you serve this to 12. To ensure you have enough, you could make 1.5 times the recipe. Hope everyone enjoys

      • — Jenn on September 13, 2021
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  • An easy and reliable family favourite. Thank you for the helpful toggle on your recipes that allows me to switch from cup measures to metric, it is so useful.

    • — Melissa on August 27, 2021
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  • This dish is very rich and so flavorful. Followed the recipe exactly and can’t think of anything I would change.

    • — M Smith on August 15, 2021
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  • Our daughter’s family is coming to the cabin next week. I am always trying to find a recipe that I can make and pop into the oven when they get here. Thank you for this recipe – it sounds perfect from all of the great reviews!

    • — Ginny on August 15, 2021
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  • This was a winner at our house! I love that it is so easy to make yet tastes so good! Thanks!

    • — Jenn B on August 12, 2021
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  • LOVE LOVE LOVE this ziti. I’ve shared the recipe with many and all agree it’s simple to prepare and fantastic. My son adapted to a vegan dish and he was thrilled with the result. Thanks!

    • — Melanie Wilbourn on August 11, 2021
    • Reply
  • Can I prepare this early in the day, refrigerate it and then bake it. Or should I go ahead and bake it and then reheat a few hours later?

    Thank you! So excited to make this based on all the AMAZING reviews!

    • — Patty on August 6, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Patty, I would assemble and refrigerate it and then bake it before serving.

      • — Jenn on August 6, 2021
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  • Delish! The heavy cream is far superior over grainy ricotta or heaviness of sour cream. Trust this recipe. My pasta shunning BF ate this ziti over several days without complaint. I tripled the red pepper flakes, even while using spicy sausage. I love a bit of heat with my tomatoes. Follow the recipe to cook the pasta until VERY al dente. My pasta was pretty hard when I drained it and it still came out perfectly soft/cooked in the oven. Upped the fresh basil and parm to taste.

    • — Always Summer on August 5, 2021
    • Reply
  • My favorite baked ziti recipe! Super simple. Better than my lasagna that takes me a couple of hours to prepare. The only thing I changed up was I doubled the red pepper flakes and don’t use quite all of the noodles. Also, tried once adding more seasonings and won’t do that again. Better to stick with the original ingredients. It is delicious.

    • — Patrice Tanner on July 23, 2021
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  • Sounds great. Making for the first time – should the tomatoes be drained? Thanks.

    • — Deborah Bullock on July 22, 2021
    • Reply
    • No — hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on July 22, 2021
      • Reply
  • This baked ziti has become a request of friends whenever we go on a trip together. This is the quintessential baked ziti — we love it!

    • — Drew on July 9, 2021
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  • I grate the mozzarella and mix it in instead of layering it, but other than that follow the recipe down to a tee. This is *muah*🤌

    • — Tyler on June 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen, we made this last night and it is scrumptious! We want to reheat tonight. What is the best way to reheat and keep it moist? Thank you!

    • — Melissa on June 5, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Melissa, I’d cover with foil and reheat in a 300-degree oven til hot.

      • — Jenn on June 5, 2021
      • Reply
  • Another wonderful recipe! I made this for dinner last week and my kids and husband devoured it. I must say that my husband is a trained Chef, also a graduate of L’ Academie d’ Cuisine and he enjoyed the dish. It is always a challenge for me to find recipes that are good and have been previously tested. Thank you!!!

    • — Maria on May 25, 2021
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  • This was quite a labor of love to make but it was an excellent dish. My husband said it was the best thing I’ve ever made. I used 2lbs of ground italian sausage, sauteed an onion and red pepper, added extra garlic. I had too much for a 9×13 dish so was able to freeze a small pan for later. I also used dried basil in place of fresh and parmesan as that’s what I had. Thanks for the great recipe!

    • — Kim on May 16, 2021
    • Reply
  • Great recipe ! My family loved it! Super easy and quick

    • — Nikki on May 15, 2021
    • Reply
    • Can you make a 1/2 portion ? How would I cut recipe thanks

      • — Lori on July 11, 2021
      • Reply
      • Hi Lori, I’d cut all the ingredients in half and use an 8 x 8-inch pan. Baking time will be about the same if not a touch shorter. Hope that helps!

        • — Jenn on July 12, 2021
        • Reply
  • This recipe is a favorite for all who have eaten it! My family raves about it! I used Fusilli instead of Zita and they liked it just as much! Great family meal that is easy to make!

    • — Cheryl S on April 20, 2021
    • Reply
  • I will echo the many rave reviews here because this recipe has been on my family’s regular rotation of meals for a couple years now. We all love it, and my 4 year old jumps up and down when I tell her I’m making ziti tonight! It is great fresh, leftover, made in big batches, frozen, everything! It is ultimate comfort food! I usually make it with Italian chicken sausage, ground turkey, and I puree spinach into the sauce to make it a little healthier (also since we eat it a lot!), but I’ve also made it exactly as instructed here and it is always a big hit. Adding spinach to the sauce doesn’t change much of the flavor, but since I’ve been making this for years, I’m thinking of trying it out with more vegetables mixed in.

    • — Jennifer Esserlieu on April 19, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is the BEST Baked Ziti I’ve ever had and I’ve had a lot of baked ziti in my 61 years!! Our whole family raved about it! Didn’t miss the Ricotta cheese that you find in most recipes – actually liked it better!

    • — Miller on April 11, 2021
    • Reply
  • My son asked for this family favorite for his birthday…but my granddaughter is now a vegetarian…how about you create a spinach baked ziti sometime in the future so I don’t have to make two different dishes!!? Help!
    Thanks!

    • — Diana on April 7, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Diana, A number of readers have commented that they’ve made vegetarian versions of this by adding sauteed veggies (like bell peppers, mushrooms, etc.) in place of the sausage. That said, I really prefer this with sausage because it adds so much flavor. I will add a vegetarian baked ziti to my list of recipes to potentially develop!

      • — Jenn on April 7, 2021
      • Reply
      • Thank you…and agree..,the sausage…wow!

        • — Diana on April 8, 2021
        • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, this recipe is such a hit with my entire family. I want to double it for a birthday party and am wondering if I would have to double the time. Also I will be making it ahead of time and freezing it before baking. Thanks so much for your wonderful recipes!!!!

    • — Kari on April 6, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Kari, So glad you like this! If doubling it, you won’t have to double the baking time, but they may take a few extra minutes because the oven will be a bit more crowded.

      • — Jenn on April 6, 2021
      • Reply
  • Made this for dinner last night and it was delicious! I added 1/2 lb hot Italian sausage because I had some I needed to use. It was awesome! Other than that addition, I followed the recipe exactly. Thank you.

    • — Jennifer Hardy on March 31, 2021
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  • I’ve made this a few times and it’s always a hit.

    • — Micky on March 25, 2021
    • Reply
  • Can the sauce be made ahead of time and then when I want to eat the pasta cook the noodles and mix them together with the heated already made sauce and bake?

    Made this last night and it was AMAZING! would love to make this when we are traveling because it is a crowd-pleaser.

    • — Kathleen on March 20, 2021
    • Reply
    • Glad you enjoyed it! You can definitely make the sauce ahead – just leave out the cream and add it when you combine the pasta and sauce.

      • — Jenn on March 22, 2021
      • Reply
      • Thanks! I actually just found out at the place we are staying at there is no oven. Is this recipe still good without baking?
        Should I add something to the sauce if I am not baking it?

        • — Kathleen on March 22, 2021
        • Reply
        • If you won’t have an oven to put the dish in, I’d omit the cheese. Also, I’d cook the pasta just a little longer as it will not cook at all in the oven. Hope that helps!

          • — Jenn on March 23, 2021
          • Reply
          • Thank you so much!!!
            Just curious do you have any other pasta recipes that are really loved and a crowd pleaser to everyone? My family doesn’t really like creamy white sauce pasta but they love seafood pasta and red sauce type pasta. Or do you have any loved recipes that is one pan or pot? I know you have categories on the website but wanted your opinion on favorite crowd pleaser dishes etc.

            • — Kathleen on March 26, 2021
          • My pleasure! A couple of things that come to mind: meatless lasagna, Classic Lasagna, Linguine with Clams, Spaghetti Pie. Hope that helps and that you enjoy whatever you try!

            • — Jenn on March 26, 2021
  • Made exactly as recipe suggests and LOVED IT! It’s just my husband and I so we ended up eating several meals of this, but when we got to the end of the pan my husband said “I’m really going to miss this!”. 🙂 And he’s not one to eat leftovers very easily. Will definitely make again!!

    • — Paige Morris on March 12, 2021
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    • First, I have to say that I have tried and loved several of your recipes! With the ziti recipe, can ground beef be used instead of sausage?
      Thank you

      • — Ali on September 3, 2021
      • Reply
      • So glad you like the recipes, Ali! You can get away with using ground beef here; just make sure it’s well seasoned as the sausage has a lot of seasoning. Enjoy!

        • — Jenn on September 6, 2021
        • Reply
  • This is a pleasure to make and eat. A better lasagna in half the time. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • — Foopoo on March 12, 2021
    • Reply
  • So delicious! I made it tonight and the whole family loved it, even the baby! The tween asked us to include it in our weekly meal rotation. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    I had a question about the Pecorino Romano. Is the total amount for the dish 1/2 cup? I misread it and added 1/3 to the sauce, and another third when layering the pasta and cheeses.

    • — Denise on March 10, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Denise, Glad to hear this was a family-pleaser! Yes, you want a total of 1/2 cup of the Pecorino Romano; 1/3 cup gets incorporated into the sausage mixture and the remainder gets sprinkled onto the two layers of that mixture. Not a big deal though to have a little extra cheese! 🙂

      • — Jenn on March 10, 2021
      • Reply
  • So delicious and comforting. Love all of your recipes!

    • — Isabelle Pham on March 9, 2021
    • Reply
  • So delicious. As others have suggested, I used 18% cream and it was still fantastic. I also used a little less sausage than suggested and it was perfect. Cheesy, creamy, and smooth.

    • — Jake T on March 6, 2021
    • Reply
  • I’ve made LOTS of versions of baked ziti, and this one blows the rest out of the water! I couldn’t stop eating it, and when I finally did, I couldn’t stop thinking and talking about how good it was!

    • — Julie on March 5, 2021
    • Reply
    • 🙂 Glad you enjoyed!

      • — Jenn on March 6, 2021
      • Reply
    • Hey Jenn, still loving your recipes after all these years! I’ve made this several times and loved it. Just curious but do you think fresh Parmesan cheese would work well? It’s hard to find percoriano or reggiano cheese at times so thought I would ask!

      • — Staci on March 24, 2021
      • Reply
      • So glad you like the recipes! Yes, you can get away with using Parmesan here. 🙂

        • — Jenn on March 24, 2021
        • Reply
  • We made this for the first time tonight, and we LOVED it! My husband has been raving about it! The proportions are absolutely perfect, and the timing you suggested was perfect too — the ziti were not gummy and overcooked, the sausage was just right. The addition of cream and a little sugar was perfect, and the cream reminded me of how my French friends throw a big spoonful of creme fraiche into any tomato-based recipe. Considering how fantastic this tastes, it’s a surprisingly simple recipe, and one we will make again and again. Thank you so much! This recipe is FANTASTIC!!!

    • — Nancy Palmer on March 1, 2021
    • Reply
  • This was excellent. My partner never eats the same meal two days in a row, and he didn’t hesitate to do it with this dish. It’s a very oily dish, but if you eat it with light sides + water or wine, it doesn’t pile up on you so much. An addicting comfort food; will definitely be making this again!

    • — Corrine on February 28, 2021
    • Reply
    • I ate this baked ziti for dinner for a week straight and could have gone another week eating only this. It is so delicious and I can’t thank you enough for sharing it.

      • — Helen on May 4, 2021
      • Reply
  • Could I make this completely ahead of time and then freeze it? I’m a new home owner and still a bit limited on dishes, haha

    • — Corrine on February 24, 2021
    • Reply
    • Sure, Corrine. See the bottom of the recipe for freezer-friendly instructions. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on February 24, 2021
      • Reply
      • Sorry, I meant can I make AND cook it ahead of time, then freeze it? I know the freezer directions say to freeze it uncooked, I was just wondering if the taste would be super compromised if I froze it cooked?

        Thank you for being so responsive!

        • — Corrine on February 26, 2021
        • Reply
        • Hi Corrine, that should be fine too. Happy to help!

          • — Jenn on February 26, 2021
          • Reply
  • Made this evening. Easy to make and really tasty. Family liked it and there’s enough leftover for lunch tomorrow!

    • — Becky on February 21, 2021
    • Reply
  • My husband thinks this is better than any Italian restaurant could make. We love it !
    I only use one pound of Italian sausage and I am generous generous with the cheese.

    • — Susie Smith on February 18, 2021
    • Reply
  • My family absolutely loved this recipe!

    • — Katherine Geddes on February 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is a fantastic recipe, so easy, reliable and satisfying! Made it for the 4th time and it is perfect for the NY cold snap. I use bottled Mutti Passata instead of canned tomato, because it is what I have in the pantry, it is 24 oz. (not 28) so I add 3 Tbs tomato paste plus 3/4 cup water. Absolutely delicious, have had nothing but success with every recipe tried from Jen!

    • — Lynne on February 16, 2021
    • Reply
    • Replying to my own review so I can rate this as 5 stars! Made again yesterday we like it with just one pound of sausage and cut the salt to 1/2 teaspoon. Used spicy Premio sausage this time and it was just delicious. Definitely in our regular rotation.

      • — Lynne on April 12, 2021
      • Reply
  • I had a good feeling about this dish, reading the ingredients and viewing the pictures. Well, my wife and I just finished it and her words to me said it all, “that was the best baked ziti I have ever had in my life.” That is what I live for cooking for my wife and I. The heavy cream in lieu of ricotta and the use of crushed red pepper made this dish stand up against all others. Thank you so much.

    • — Ted Zeiher on February 14, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this and it ended up too salty for me. It was most likely due to the sausage I used as there is very little added salt in the recipe. I really liked the simplicity of the recipe and use of cream to tone down the acidity of the tomatoes. I’ll definitely try it again using a different sausage source. Your other recipes have been wonderful!

    • — Michael Webb on February 14, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this cautiously, a week or so ago and both my husband and myself fell in love with it. I am not a fan of many tomato sauce dishes but this dish, with the addition of cream (I ended up using half and half) is heavenly.
    Thank you! And thank you for writing your recipes in such a way that any questions/doubts I may have are answered.

    • — Becki on February 11, 2021
    • Reply
  • Fantastic! Thank you!

    • — Connie on February 4, 2021
    • Reply

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