This sausage and balsamic tomato pasta is the easiest weeknight meal ever. The tomato sauce with balsamic vinegar is a simple pantry sauce that pairs with any pasta shape. Each bowl is topped with a perfectly cooked Italian sausage link. I add balsamic vinegar to the tomato sauce to round out the flavors and give it a nice punchiness. My favorite part of this Italian sausage link recipe is the minimal prep. I don’t remove the casings from the sausage, and I don’t chop them up. Just chuck them in the pan and let them simmer in the tomato sauce.
The premise of this recipe is quite simple. In a later post, we’ll do a deep dive into balsamic vinegar together. For today–and in the spirit of an easy weeknight meal–we’ll keep it simple and straightforward.
The ingredients you need:
- Sausage: I recommend hot Italian sausage links for this recipe, though you can use sweet Italian. Either chicken, pork, or plant-based sausage will work well.
- Aromatics: Like any delicious tomato sauce, simple, good ingredients are the key. You need a few ingredients, including onions, capers, garlic, crushed red pepper, and a little dry thyme or Italian seasoning. Butter brings everything together. This is supposed to be an easy weeknight meal, so if you don’t have one or two of the ingredients, skip them! Capers, for instance, are delicious but not essential.
- Canned tomatoes: I use one 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Whole peeled will work well here too. Diced have a propensity for being a bit watery, so I recommend straining off that excess liquid from the can before adding the tomatoes.
- Balsamic vinegar: A good quality Balsamic Vinegar from Modena will round out the sauce with a complex sweetness that pairs beautifully with hot sausage and briny capers.
- Parmigiano Reggiano: Freshly grated parm adds a nice richness to the sauce. If you don’t have this, a splash of cream will suffice.
- Pasta: I use bucatini, but any pasta shape works well here.
First, the sausage:
To start, fry up the sausage links. Because this is an easy weeknight meal, I don’t fuss with cutting the sausage or removing the casing. Just throw them in as they are. You want a nice, golden crust on both sides, but the sausages need not be cooked through at this stage. Cook them up for about 5 minutes per side and then transfer them to a bowl.
As I mentioned above, just because this is an Italian sausage link recipe doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself! You can use sausages that have slightly more unique fillings, or you can keep it straightforward as I did! Sun-dried tomato sausage would be super fun. Or you could use a sausage that has cheese in it too!
If you only have loose sausage, that’s totally fine too. Just fry it up in this step until cooked through, transfer it to a paper towel-lined plate, and add it back in with the canned tomatoes.
Now, prepare the sauce:
Once you’ve finished the sausage, it’s time to prepare the sauce. First, I start by sautéeing onions. I add a pinch of sugar to help them caramelize lightly. You do not need to go into a full caramelization with the onions, but I like to get them past translucent. They’ll take on a nice golden brown color once they’ve cooked for about 10 minutes.
From there, add butter along with the remaining aromatics: the capers, minced garlic, crushed red pepper, and Italian seasoning or dry thyme.
Once the garlic is nice and fragrant–about 1 or 2 minutes–you want to add the balsamic vinegar. Let it sizzle in the pot for a few seconds.
Finally, pour in the tomatoes and stir to combine. I just love how the balsamic vinegar swirls into the tomatoes. Adding balsamic vinegar to tomato sauce will make your whole houes smell amazing.
Season the sauce with a big pinch of salt and pepper, throw in the sausage links, and cover and simmer for about 30 minutes.
Finish the pasta:
While the sauce simmers, boil up some pasta and scoop out about 1 cup of the cooking water.
Once you drain the pasta, check the temperature of the sausage links. They should be 160ºF. Transfer the sausage links to a bowl and cover with foil.
Throw all the cooked pasta in the pot with half the pasta cooking water. Toss together over low heat until the pasta is coated and glossy.
Turn off the heat and add the grated parm. Continue tossing to coat, adding more of the pasta cooking water as needed to loosen up the sauce. You can pile the sausages back on top and serve the pasta straight from the pot at the table. My dad always took issue with serving things out of pots and pans, so if you’re the same way, you can also add the pasta to a serving platter with the sausages. Garnish with fresh basil and more grated parm, if you like.
I absolutely loved this easy weeknight meal, and I hope you do too. If you’re looking for more pasta recipes, check my archives. If you make this recipe, please be sure to drop a note in the comments to let me know what you thought!
Sausage and Balsamic Tomato Pasta
- 1 teaspoon olive oil, more if needed
- 1 pound hot Italian sausage links
- 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- Pinch of sugar, optional
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning or dry thyme, more to taste if needed
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper, more or less to taste
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 28- ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 16 ounces bucatini, or your favorite pasta shape
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- A few fresh basil leaves, optional, for garnish
- Extra virgin olive oil, optional, for serving
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the sausages:
- Drizzle 1 teaspoon of oil in a wide pot. Turn the heat to medium-high. Once hot, add the sausages and cook without moving for 3–5 minutes until golden brown. Flip and cook for 3–5 minutes until the other side is golden brown. Transfer to a plate.
Sauté the onion:
- If needed, add another drizzle of oil. Add the yellow onion and cook, occasionally turning, for 6–7 minutes.
- Add 1 tablespoon butter and a pinch of sugar. Continue cooking the onion until it takes on a light golden brown color for 5–7 minutes.
Sizzle the aromatics:
- Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter into the aromatics. Once melted and bubbly, add the garlic, capers, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper. Toss to coat and cook until fragrant, 1–2 minutes.
Simmer the sauce:
- Pour in the balsamic vinegar and stir to coat. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add the tomatoes and stir to combine. Add a big pinch of salt and pepper to taste.
- Place the sausage links in the sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 25–30 minutes. Check the sauce occasionally to ensure it’s not sticking to the bottom of the pot. If the sauce sticks, add a splash of water to lift up anything stuck to the bottom.
Cook the pasta:
- As the sauce simmers, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous pinch of salt. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Scoop out 1 cup of pasta water, drain the pasta, and set aside.
Finish the sauce:
- Remove the cover from the pot. Check the internal temperature of the sausage to ensure they’ve reached 160ºF. Remove the sausage links from the pot and transfer them to a serving platter. Cover and keep warm. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings to your preference. Just note that your pasta water will be quite salty, so keep that in mind as you adjust the seasonings.
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and half the cooking water. Toss to coat until the pasta is glossy. Turn off the heat.
- Add the grated cheese and continue tossing to coat, adding more pasta water as needed.
- Add the cooked pasta to the serving platter with the sausages. Garnish with more grated cheese, a few basil leaves, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Enjoy!