Pasta makes for a simple and satisfying weeknight dinner. It uses pantry ingredients, cooks quickly, and can easily be made without meat. This delicious vegetarian spicy sausage pasta is loaded with plant-based sausage, crispy sage, brussels sprouts, and a tiny splash of cream to bring it all together. The fried sage not only makes for a delicious topping—but it also infuses sage flavor into the olive oil that gets used for cooking.
I first made a version of this spicy sausage pasta recipe on a cold winter evening, when I was willing to use whatever was on hand—to avoid a trip out to the grocery store. We usually keep a package of vegan sausages in the freezer. They're an easy way to add protein to meals and it really hits the spot with meat-loving friends. The crispy, crumbled sausage is even tastier when cooked with onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. The combination is delicious and comes together rather quickly, so we've made this comforting pasta recipe many times since!
- Orechiette: They're perfect for cradling sauce. But you could use another small noodle instead—such as cavatelli, fusilli, farfalle, or shells. Use gluten free pasta if you need.
- Plant-based sausage: The sausages get crumbled into a hot skillet and cooked until brown and crispy (YUM!). We love using Beyond Meat Hot Italian sausages for this pasta recipe—but you could easily use your favorite sausage instead. If you're not using a spicy sausage, consider adding more red pepper flakes for heat.
- Fresh sage: Fresh sage makes this simple dinner feel extra special. The sage leaves will fry in the same olive oil used for cooking. It's a quick trick to infuse subtle flavor into the sauce; and the crispy leaves get crumbled on top of the pasta before serving.
- Thyme: It's no secret, I LOVE fresh thyme. We tested this recipe with and without the thyme—and surprise, surprise...it's better with it. If you don't have fresh thyme, you can substitute it with dried. Dried thyme is more potent than fresh thyme (by about 3x), so refer to the recipe for the dried equivalent.
- Brussels sprouts: During the fall and winter, brussels sprouts are great to keep on hand. They're sturdy and last a while in the fridge. The brussels sprouts get sliced for this recipe—but since they're getting cooked, you don't need to use a mandoline to shave them razor-thin.
- Cream: A splash of cream helps bring all the flavors together. We mix the cream with starchy pasta water so the sauce doesn't feel too heavy. If vegan, substitute with a plain, unsweetened barista-style non-dairy milk or creamer.
- Parmesan cheese: Pasta is its best-self with some kind of cheese! Here you can use grated Parmesan cheese (or Asiago cheese). If vegan, use a store-bought grated Parmesan substitute.
How to make
One of the reasons we love this pasta is because it's so quick to make. By the time the pasta is cooked, the rest of the dish is ready. Here's how to make this Spicy Sausage and Brussels Sprouts Pasta:
- Cook the pasta: Add the pasta to a big pot of salted boiling water.
- Fry the sage: In a large skillet, warm the olive oil and add the fresh sage leaves. Cook the sage until crispy, then transfer it to a plate and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
- Brown the sausage and onion: Now, add the crumbled sausage and onion into the sage-infused oil. Cook until crispy and brown. It should smell SO GOOD.
- Add the other components: To the crispy sausage and onion, add in the garlic, thyme, salt, red pepper flakes, and brussels sprouts.
- Combine: Add the cooked pasta to the skillet, finish with cream, pasta water, and Parmesan cheese. Crumble the fried sage on top and dig in!
Frequently asked questions
The shape of orecchiette pasta makes it easy for them to nest inside each other. To prevent orecchiette from sticking, make sure you're adding the pasta to rapidly boiling water. Give them a good stir after adding them to the water, and occasionally throughout the cooking process.
If you can't find orecchiette pasta, instead use another small noodle such as cavatelli, fusilli, farfalle, or shells. Different shapes have different cook times, so follow the package directions and cook the noodles until al dente.
This recipe is quite flexible, so feel free to use your favorite type of sausage (vegan or otherwise). For this recipe, we really love the flavor and spice of Beyond Meat Hot Italian sausages (which in our opinion, aren't that spicy). We've also made this recipe with Beyond Meat Mild Italian sausages, and increased the amount of red pepper flakes to compensate. That said, there are a lot of plant-based sausage brands out there, so use the ones you like best!
In this recipe, you could use an equal amount of chopped broccolini instead of brussels sprouts. Or, use thinly sliced kale instead (about 1 bunch, thinly sliced, since it'll shrink down significantly when cooked).
You can use dried thyme instead of fresh. Since dried thyme is more concentrated, you'll need to use less of it. Substitute thyme using this ratio: 1 teaspoon dried thyme = 3 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) fresh thyme.
That said, we highly recommend keeping fresh thyme on hand if you can! It's delicious in all sorts of dishes—like soups, roasted veggies, sauteed mushrooms, pastas, and so much more.
Many non-dairy milk brands now offer "barista-style" milks. Barista-style milks are developed to froth and not curdle when added to hot beverages. We've found they also tend to be the most neutral in flavor and creamier in texture. So, we usually reach for barista-style non-dairy milks when we're trying to replicate the neutral taste and creaminess of full-fat dairy milk or cream. We especially like Oatly and Minor Figures. Just make sure you're using an unflavored and unsweetened variety, otherwise it could add an unintended flavor to a savory recipe.
Spicy Sausage and Brussels Sprouts Pasta
- 12 oz orecchiette (about 3½ cups, see note 1)
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 12 leaves fresh sage
- 4 spicy plant-based sausages (about 14 oz/400 g, see note 2)
- 1 yellow onions, diced (2 cups)
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt (more to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 cups thinly sliced brussels sprouts (9 oz)
- ⅓ cup whipping cream (see note 3)
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese (1.5 oz, see note 4)
- Cook pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to boil on medium-high heat. Add orecchiette and cook until al dente, according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.
- Fry sage: Meanwhile, add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat (see note 5). Scatter in sage and fry until crispy, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer sage onto a plate lined with paper towel, and sprinkle with a bit of salt. (Keep oil in skillet).
- Brown sausage and onion: Crumble the sausage into the sage-infused oil. Increase heat to medium-high. Add onion. Saute until the sausage is crispy and onion is golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add other components: Reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, thyme, salt, and red pepper flakes to the sausage mixture. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add brussels sprouts and cook, stirring frequently, until tender and bright green, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Combine: Add drained pasta to the skillet. Toss to combine. Pour in ¾ cup of the reserved pasta water and cream. Let the pasta finish cooking in the sauce, about 1 minute. Stir in Parmesan. Add another slash of pasta water, if needed, so the pasta is coated in a luscious sauce. Taste and season with more salt and red pepper flakes, if needed. Scoop into bowls, garnish with more Parmesan, and crumble fried sage on top.
- Pasta: Instead of orecchiette, you could use another short noodle instead —such as cavatelli, shells, elbows, rotini or penne. Use gluten-free pasta if needed. If substituting for another kind of noodle, measure by weight (12 oz) not volume.
- Plant-based sausages: We used Beyond Meat Hot Italian sausages, but feel free to substitute with your favorite brand of sausages. You don't need to use spicy sausages either, but you may wish to compensate by adding more red pepper flakes and/or freshly-ground black pepper.
- Heavy cream: For a vegan option, use a plain unsweetened dairy-free milk or creamer.
- Parmesan cheese: Imported Parmesan cheese typically contains animal-based rennet. If you wish to avoid this, look for cheese labelled as "vegetarian friendly" or lists "microbial enzymes" as an ingredient (instead of rennet). Asiago cheese is also a good alternative. For a vegan option, use a store-bought shredded vegan Parmesan.
- Choosing a skillet: Use a 12-inch (30 cm) skillet—or a large Dutch oven or pot instead. You'll need a vessel that's big enough to combine the sausage, veggies, and cooked pasta at the end. (Note: A 10-inch skillet is too small!)