Worknight Dinners: Baked Penne with Spinach & Sausage

by Maris Callahan on May 3, 2009


If you ever need to make dinner for someone you want to impress, without a) potentially screwing up said dinner cause the instructions are complicated or b) spending hours in the kitchen while your dinner guests drink wine, eat cheese and have fun without you, then you need look no further.

I found this recipe on Dinner with Julie for Baked Penne with Spinach & Sausage and immediately knew that it would be right up my alley.

A little bit of store-bought pesto goes a long way towards adding unique flavor to the tomato sauce and when baked with fresh, hand-grated mozzarella and parmesan cheese, you’ll forget that you’ve ever ordered pasta from a restaurant and probably never will again.

The best part? It’s truly easy. A lot of Italian cooking involves chopping, slicing, dicing and stirring but with this dish, all you need to do is chop the onion, garlic and sausage, combine the sauce, throw it all together and pop it in the oven. You could even make this on the weekend, freeze it and pull it out during the week for a fast, fresh dinner.

While it bakes you can enjoy a crisp glass of Prosecco or sparkling wine and catch up with your friends or loved ones after a long day. Okay, okay…who am I kidding? While it bakes, you can throw in the laundry, catch up on email, start the dishes and watch last week’s DVR’ed episode of The Office.


Baked Penne with Sausage and Spinach


Canola or olive oil, for cooking
2 lean chicken and apple or Italian sausages, squeezed out of their casings
1 onion, chopped
3-5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 28 oz. (540 mL) can diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 can tomato paste
1/4 cup pesto (out of a jar)
3 cups penne, rigatoni or rotini pasta (preferably a whole wheat or brown rice variety)
1 10 oz. bag baby spinach leaves
1 ½ cups grated part-skim mozzarella
1/2 – 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese


1. In a large saucepan, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat and cook the sausage, onion and garlic, breaking up the meat until the sausage is cooked through. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Stir in the pesto and some salt and pepper.

2. Cook the pasta until al dente, drain it well and toss it with the spinach (coarsely tear the spinach up with your hands as you add it), mozzarella and about half the Parmesan cheese in a large bowl. Stir in the hot tomato sauce, which will slightly wilt the spinach. Divide among baking dishes or aluminum containers (it should be enough to fill one 9”x13” pan) and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. (At this point the dish can be cooled completely, covered and frozen for up to 4 months. Bake from frozen.)

3. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes (40 if frozen) until bubbly and golden. If you want to make it ahead, cool completely before covering and transferring to the freezer for up to 3 months, then bake it from frozen, adding about 15 extra minutes of baking time.

Serves 6-8.

Now, onto a few housekeeping items:

Diets in Review: I’m guest-posting today over at Diets In Review is a great new website and blog for those who want to shed some weight. With fitness tips, healthy recipes and much more, Diets In Review is not just for dieters, but for anyone looking to maintain a healthy weight and eat a balanced diet.

Worknight Dinners:: From this point on, please check back here every Sunday for a new Worknight Dinners recipe. These meals will be fast, easy, healthy and hearty. Whether you’re a seasoned cook or if you think you’re a disaster in the kitchen, Sunday’s worknight dinners will offer recipes that even the novice home chef can conquer.

See’s Candies Giveaway: Thanks to, I played it fair and chose a random integer to select the winner of last week’s contest. Congratulations to Kat from A Good Appetite! Kat and her husband love to cook and eat, so their blog is definitely one worth exploring. Aside from mouth-watering recipes, Kat shares her weekly menu plan to inspire all of us.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Cecile Yasay May 3, 2009 at 3:00 am

We will definitely try this dish in my house this week. Thanks for sharing.


beyond May 3, 2009 at 3:00 am

looks like something i would eat for brunch, right now… mmmh.


Sophie May 3, 2009 at 3:00 am

MMMMMMMM…..Maris! This pasta dish looks amazing!!!!
I love it! yummie!!


elra May 3, 2009 at 3:00 am

So delicious looking penne. I like the simplicity of it, perfect dish to make during busy week days.


Kerstin May 3, 2009 at 3:00 am

Looks really yummy and fast, and I love how it’s packed with spinach!
What a great idea to post a worknight dinner every Sunday – I’m looking forward to it!


Pearl May 3, 2009 at 3:00 am

looks like it’d be a hit pasta dish!


kat May 3, 2009 at 3:00 am

Thats my kind of pasta. Thanks for the chocolates. I can’t wait to get them, a perfect birthday gift!


thatShortChick May 3, 2009 at 3:00 am

this looks incredible. god, i love pasta.


Jessica May 3, 2009 at 3:00 am

Wow this looks really good. I’m thinking of making it next week. Hmm I’ll be sure to share photos with you too!! It won’t look as good as yours but maybe close ;)


Sandie May 3, 2009 at 3:00 am

Have I mentioned that pasta and bread are my weakness? Seriously. I could eat pasta every day and never tire of it. That said, with a healthy dose of spinach and sausage thrown in here, at least I wouldn’t feel so guilty about eating more pasta! :)


Melissa May 4, 2009 at 3:00 am

How funny. When my NY parents moved us to Texas when I was 7, we found a hole in the wall Italian joint, authentic, tasty, etc. that we went to a couple of times per week. And without exception, I ordered the baked ziti. For 7 years. Isn’t it the best?
I love this dish of yours with the spinach and sausage. My two favorite additions to pasta just about.


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) May 4, 2009 at 3:00 am

Love the new focus on worknight dinners. These are great recipes that come together easily and quickly, and of course rely on a well-conceived pantry!


Matt May 4, 2009 at 3:00 am

ok Maris… you are going to think I’m an idiot… but what does al dente mean? Does it mean done?
Also- I am totally trying this one. It looks easy, which is definitely my style.


Gudrun May 4, 2009 at 3:00 am

this does look like a great mid-week dinner! My kids love sausage, perhaps I will have to put it into our plan sometime soon :-)


jshively May 4, 2009 at 3:00 am

I do something similar for a new girl I am dating but I use veal and stuff pasta. They all think I spend hours in the kitchen when in reality I spend next to no time.
Plus the real joy is everything can be done the day before or that morning and just reheated.


Joie de vivre May 4, 2009 at 3:00 am

We had a temporary living situation like this when I was in high school while our house was being built. For us, it was Stouffer lasagna that we ate most nights. I think you got a pretty good deal eating at the Italian restaurant! This dish looks really yummy.


Jenn@slim-shoppin May 5, 2009 at 3:00 am

Wow, that looks amazing. I am totally going to make this soon! I can’t wait. It’s something my whole family will eat (kids included!)


Lisa (dinner party) May 5, 2009 at 3:00 am

Great idea for entertaining!


dandysugarsf May 5, 2009 at 3:00 am

This one is right up my alley. Even though it’s just my boyfriend and I, dinners like this one automatically mean lots of easy meals for lunches and stuff.
I love the pesto and the spinach and the idea of a healthy pasta noodle, it’s definitely a dish I will make!!


Cate O'Malley May 5, 2009 at 3:00 am

Always looking for new recipes to make on busy weeknights. This one looks deliciously hearty … and I love the cheese – yum!


Dorothy May 6, 2009 at 3:00 am

OMG this looks soooo good! i need some NOW!


Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella May 7, 2009 at 3:00 am

This looks incredible and perfect for the cold weather we’ve been having! :)


Jude May 7, 2009 at 3:00 am

The recipe does seem easy. I’d be tempted to fry up Italian sausages and eat it by itself, though.


Leslie May 12, 2009 at 3:00 am

ohhhh, I am soooo excited. I bought myself this book for Mother’s Day!


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