This is the time of year when I’m constantly searching for quick meals to make at night when more important things trump a long-winded weeknight dinner…like cookie baking, tree decorating, vanilla eggnog drinking, and old-school Christmas carol singing.  And this year, add organizing my house for a big move to that list.  Yep, that’s right…our house is almost finished and we expect to be moved in during the week between Christmas and New Year’s!  It’s been quite an insane time of my life and much to my excitement (and relief?), I’ve recently discovered a gold mine of quick meals with my new Cook’s Illustrated online subscription.  (Don’t have one?  Want to win one??)

Skillet Penne with Chicken Sausage and Spinach

This recipe is one of those.  It’s a one pot meal that I had on the table in under 30 minutes from prep to finish and after running to between noon and 5 yesterday, the last thing I wanted to do was make dinner.  But you know what?  This meal practically got itself on the table and I couldn’t have been happier with how it turned out.  I tweaked the recipe a little, adding some white wine in place of the chicken broth and finishing off the sauce with some cream (it needed a little boost) and I’ve reflected my changes below.  It’s a killer meal and I can tell you that it will be on my table again in the next couple of crazy weeks, for sure.


Skillet Penne with Chicken Sausage and Spinach
source: adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, May 2007 (also found in The Best 30-Minute Recipe)
You can most definitely swap out the raw sausage for pre-cooked chicken sausage, as I did, in this recipe.  Simply slice the sausage into 1/4-inch slices and saute the sausage for 2-3 minutes, just as in step 1 below; then proceed as directed.  If you don’t want to use wine, use 2 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth and reduce the water to 2 1/4 cups – the total liquid in the recipe (excluding the cream) should be 4 1/2 cups.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 lb hot or sweet Italian turkey or chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/4 cups dry white wine
  • 3 1/4 cups water
  • 8 oz (2 1/2 cups) penne, ziti, or rotini pasta
  • 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed, dried, and chopped fine
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup to 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 6 oz baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (optional)


  1. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add sausage, breaking it up with a spoon, and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Stir in wine, water, pasta, tomatoes, and salt.  Increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring often, until penne is tender and liquid has thickened, 15 to 18 minutes.  Stir in 3/4 cup of cream or half-and-half; increase the amount up to 1 cup if the dish needs a little thinning after you add the spinach in the next step.
  3. Stir in spinach, one handful at time, and cook until wilted. Off heat, stir in Parmesan and nuts (if using).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot.