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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
- It shows there are lots of ways to make a tasty cheese sauce.
- 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.
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.
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!
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.