Shell Pasta with Italian Chicken Sausage and Kale

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Healthy, comforting, and utterly delicious!  Say hello to my Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale.  It’s a traditional comfort food made healthy with a homemade Italian Chicken sausage flavored with garlic and fennel.  Hearty shell pasta perfectly cups the creamy parmesan cheesy sauce for every bite.  Finally, Kale… In this recipe, the kale is cooked in the flavorful sauce so it wilts down and melds into the backdrop so perfectly.  Kale brings texture and healthy veg-balance.  Parmesan on top is the salty and nutty finish!

Homemade Italian Sausage – with Ground Chicken!

Have you ever made your own Italian Sausage? It’s incredibly easy and right at your fingertips as long as you have a few simple ingredients. My version for this recipe uses ground chicken, which is a leaner meat than pork or beef.  It works really great for Italian Sausage because it sticks together nicely.

To make this yourself, all you need is fresh minced garlic, Italian parsley, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper!  You can make a couple pounds of this ahead, then portion it out and freeze it for later.

Here a few recipes to use it in!

Fork with bite of shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale that's also on a plate. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Quick note!  This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them.  This commission is what helps me keep this blog afloat :).  But, I also share these links because I have used the products, genuinely love them, and want you to know exactly what I used. 

EQUIPMENT NEEDED

Nothing special for this one! Just a large pot to cook the pasta in and a large skillet/frying pan for cooking the sausage, then the sauce. I use my absolute favorite 12″ Ceramic Pan, which is great because food really does slide right off with minimal oil and I don’t have to worry about food sticking and burning.  It comes with a glass lid, which is perfect for watching your dinner cook!

Oh, and mincing garlic is made super easy with a Garlic Press.

PREP-AHEAD FOR YOUR PASTA WITH ITALIAN SAUSAGE

We are all extremely busy and making dinner during the week can be overwhelming. Here are the steps you prepare in the day(s) in advance and store in the fridge as your meal Kit… (See the recipe below for more details) 

For this recipe, you really want to eat it right after you mix it all together when the sauce is still creamy.  But, you can get everything ready to go ahead so all you do is cook it and in 30 minutes, you have dinner!

Dice the onion and store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to cook. Clean the kale and dry it in a clean towel.  Then rough chop it into bite-size pieces.  Store the kale in the fridge with a cool damp towel on top until ready to cook.

Knife dicing onion for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Cleaned & chopped kale for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

You can also mix the Italian Sausage ahead of time as well.  Mince the garlic, chop the parsley, and measure out the fennel seed, salt, and pepper.  Mix all of these ingredients with the ground turkey or chicken.  Store in a container in the fridge until ready to cook.Italian Sausage ingredients in bowl for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Raw Italian Sausage mixed in bowl for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Note: If you prefer to buy premade Italian Sausage, look for the bulk.  If all you can find is Italian Sausage Links in casings, make sure it is raw.  Then cut the casing and squeeze the meat mixture out into the pan. 

COOK YOUR PASTA WITH ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND KALE

To start, boil your pasta according to package instructions.  Before draining the pasta, be sure to save a cup of the cooking pasta water to use in the sauce.

To a preheated large pan/skillet, add a tsp of Olive Oil and then add the Italian Sausage, breaking it up with a spatula or spoon into small bite-size pieces. Let it sit and sear for about 4-5 minutes. Then stir so that the other sides sear. Cook for another 3-4 minutes until no pieces are pink and look fully cooked through. Remove to a plate.Raw Italian Sausage in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Italian Sausage cooking in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Cooked Italian Sausage on plate for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Add another tsp of Olive Oil if needed, then add the onions and garlic. Stir so they do not burn. Cook on medium-low heat for 4-5 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add the kale, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.Cooking kale in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

While the kale begins to cook, make the slurry by adding the 2 tbsp of cornstarch to the milk and stirring until dissolved.Cornstarch & milk slurry for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Add the chicken broth and the milk slurry to the pan. As the sauce heats up, it will start to thicken, so be sure to stir every couple minutes as this happens to prevent clumping. Once the liquid has thickened a little, about 4-5 minutes (note, it will not be very thick, just a little bit thicker than it was), add the sausage back to the pan.

Kale sauce in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Thickened Kale sauce in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Italian Sausage being added to kale sauce in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce.  

Test the Kale, if it needs to cook more, cover and let cook for another few minutes. If the Kale is cooked to your liking, add the cooked pasta, 1/2 cup of the pasta water, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan Cheese. Mix to combine. If needed, you can add more of the pasta water to thin out the sauce.Shell pasta added to sauce in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Mixing parmesan with pasta and Italian Sausage in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale in a pan. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Serve the pasta garnishing with more Parmesan Cheese.

ENJOY! 😍 Carrie

Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale on a plate. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Shell Pasta with Italian Chicken Sausage and Kale

Healthy, comforting, utterly delicious - that's today's Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale.  The sauce is loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel.  Kale is cooked in the flavorful sauce so it wilts down and melds into the backdrop so perfectly. Hearty shell pasta perfectly holds the creamy parmesan cheesy sauce in each shell cup.  Parmesan on top is the salty and nutty finish! #healthypasta #healthyitalian #familydinner #dinnerideas

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Calories 562 kcal
Author Carrie Tyler

Ingredients

Italian Sausage

  • 16 oz Ground White Meat Chicken - raised w/o antibiotics (or ground turkey)
  • 2 cloves Garlic minced
  • 3 tbsp Parsley Chopped
  • 1 tsp Fennel Seed
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Fresh Ground Pepper
  • 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

All Other

  • 10 oz Uncooked Pasta, Shells or Orecchiette
  • 2 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Onion, small
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 cup Chicken Broth
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 2 tbsp Cornstarch
  • 2 cups Kale, chopped
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 tsp Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated

Instructions

Prep Ahead Steps

  1. Mince the garlic, chop the parsley, and measure out the fennel seed, salt, and pepper. Then add all to the ground chicken in a large mixing bowl. Mix to combine. Cover the bowl and store in the fridge until ready to cook.

    Italian Sausage ingredients in bowl for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 
  2. Dice the onion and store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to cook.

    Knife dicing onion for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 
  3. Clean the kale and dry it in a clean towel.  Then rough chop it into bite-size pieces.  Store the kale in the fridge with a cool damp towel on top until ready to cook.

    Cleaned & chopped kale for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Cooking Steps

  1. Boil a large pot of water for the pasta. Once the pasta water is boiling, add a splash of Olive Oil and a pinch of salt. Add the pasta and stir so that it doesn't stick it itself. Boil the pasta until al dente. Remove 1 cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta. Leave the pasta in the strainer until the sauce is ready.

  2. To a preheated large pan/skillet, add a tsp of Olive Oil and then add the Italian Sausage, breaking it up with a spatula or spoon into small bite-size pieces. Let it sit and sear for about 4-5 minutes. Then stir so that the other sides sear. Cook for another 3-4 minutes until no pieces are pink and look fully cooked through. Remove to a plate.

    Italian Sausage cooking in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 
  3. Add another tsp of Olive Oil if needed, then add the onions and garlic. Stir so they do not burn. Cook on medium-low heat for 4-5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the kale, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.

    Cooking kale in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 
  4. While the kale begins to cook, make the slurry by adding the 2 tbsp of cornstarch to the milk and stirring until dissolved.

    Cornstarch & milk slurry for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 
  5. Add the chicken broth and the milk slurry to the pan. As the sauce heats up, it will start to thicken, so be sure to stir every couple minutes as this happens to prevent clumping. Once the liquid has thickened a little, about 4-5 minutes (note, it will not be very thick, just a little bit thicker than it was), add the sausage back to the pan.

    Italian Sausage being added to kale sauce in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 
  6. Test the Kale, if it needs to cook more, cover and let cook for another few minutes. If the Kale is cooked to your liking, add the cooked pasta, 1/2 cup of the pasta water, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan Cheese. Mix to combine. If needed, you can add more of the pasta water to thin out the sauce.

    Mixing parmesan with pasta and Italian Sausage in pan for Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 
  7. Serve the pasta garnishing with more Parmesan Cheese.

    Shell Pasta with Italian Sausage and Kale on a plate. It's loaded with a salty homemade Chicken Italian Sausage flavored with garlic and fennel in a parmesan, garlic and kale sauce. 

Recipe Notes

  1. You could replace the homemade Italian Sausage with 1 lb (16oz) store-bought bulk Italian Sausage
  2. For the pasta, I used medium shells, but you could use any pasta you like.  The small-cut pasta with a cup shape to capture the parmesan and sausage is traditional, but any will taste great!
  3. For the parmesan, you can use grated or shredded.  The grated is best as it can really mix into the dish to create a sauce.

 

Broccoli Pesto Pasta

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Broccoli Pesto Pasta on a plate with fork and pine nuts and basil on counter. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner

Broccoli saved my sanity – don’t worry, I’ll explain.  So, today, I give thanks to the broccoli gods with this Broccoli Pesto Pasta!  It’s creamy, hearty, delicious AND good for you!  Woo hoo!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But rather a huge punch in the face of flavor, it’s a bit more mellow and healthier for you by adding broccoli!  The broccoli is simply blended with the other ingredients and helps to really sell this dish to my kids.  

Broccoli Pesto Pasta on a plate with fork in pasta. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner

Broccoli Saved My Sanity

When my oldest daughter was a toddler, she started to become picky with foods and not so eager to try new things, especially veggies.  I would get frustrated, worried, panicked, scared, and yes, even crazy.  However, broccoli was the one veggie that she would eat.  And let me tell ya, I latched on to that broccoli for dear life.  Broccoli gave me new hope.  It gave me freedom, it gave me my sanity back. 🙂

Here are some more great broccoli recipes to try!

Broccoli Pesto Pasta on a plate with parmesan on top. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner

Quick note!  This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them.  This commission is what helps me keep this blog afloat :).  But, I also share these links because I have used the products, genuinely love them, and want you to know exactly what I used. 

EQUIPMENT NEEDED

For this recipe, you need a food processor for the pesto. I used my go-to mini food processor which was the perfect size for sauces, dressings, and small amounts of pureed ingredients.

PREP-AHEAD TO MAKE YOUR BROCCOLI PESTO PASTA

We are all extremely busy and making dinner during the week can be overwhelming. Here are the steps you prepare in the day(s) in advance and store in the fridge as your meal Kit… (See the recipe below for more details) 

For this recipe, you can do 3 levels of easy prep…

  • You can prep just the broccoli and garlic
  • You can make the pesto ahead
  • You can make the pasta and pesto ahead and just reheat when you want to eat

Let’s start with prepping the ingredients and waiting to make the pesto and pasta.  Rough Chop 3 cups of Broccoli into pieces about 1/2 inch in size. They will go into the food processor later, so it doesn’t matter what they look like, just that they are about the same size.  You can also buy broccoli rice that’s already prepped from the store to save time.

Steam the broccoli in 1/2 cup of water either on the stove or in the microwave. Steaming should only take about 5 minutes or so.

While the broccoli is steaming, rough chop the garlic.

MAKE YOUR BROCCOLI PESTO & COOK YOUR PASTA

Boil a large pot of water for the pasta. Once boiling, add a tsp of salt and the pasta. Mix the pasta in the water and bring back to a boil. Cook pasta for 5-8 minutes until al dente.

To a mini food processor, add the basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, water, and olive oil. Pulse to blend. Then add the broccoli, salt, and pepper and pulse to blend again.

Basil, Pine nuts, garlic in mini food processor for Broccoli Pesto Pasta. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner

Basil, Pine nuts, garlic blended in mini food processor for Broccoli Pesto Pasta. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner

Broccoli added to Basil, Pine nuts, garlic blended in mini food processor for Broccoli Pesto Pasta. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner

Once everything is fully blended, scoop out into a large bowl (large enough for pasta) and mix in the grated parmesan cheese.Parmesan Cheese added to pesto in a bowl for Broccoli Pesto Pasta. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner

Broccoli Pesto in a bowl with spoon. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner

When the pasta is finished cooking, scoop out with a strainer, saving the pasta water, and transfer to the pesto bowl. Add a 1/2 cup of the pasta water and then mix to combine the pasta and the pesto. You can add more pasta water if needed. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and/or parmesan cheese as needed/desired.

Broccoli Pesto Pasta in pot with spoon with pine nuts and basil on counter. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner

ENJOY!

😍 Carrie

Broccoli Pesto Pasta on a plate with fork in pasta. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner

Broccoli Pesto Pasta

Broccoli Pesto Pasta is delicious AND good for you! It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts. But rather than a huge punch in the face of flavor, it's a bit more mellow - and healthier - for you with the addition of broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner #healthydinner #vegetarian #meatlessmeals #busymom

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword broccoli, pasta, pesto
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Calories 457 kcal
Author Carrie Tyler

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Broccoli Florets and stems, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 1/2 cup Pine Nuts
  • 1 cup Basil Leaves, loosely packed
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, Grated
  • 16 oz Fusilli Pasta, dried

Instructions

Prep Ahead Instruction

  1. Rough Chop 3 cups of Broccoli into pieces about 1/2 inch in size. They will go into the food processor later, so it doesn't matter what they look like, just that they are about the same size.

  2. Steam the broccoli in 1/2 cup of water either on the stove or in the microwave. Steaming should only take about 5 minutes or so.

  3. While the broccoli is steaming, rough chop the garlic.

Make Your Pesto and Cook Pasta

  1. Boil a large pot of water for the pasta. Once boiling, add a tsp of salt and the pasta. Mix the pasta in the water and bring back to a boil. Cook pasta for 5-8 minutes until al dente.

  2. To a mini food processor, add the basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, water, and olive oil. Pulse to blend. Then add the broccoli, salt, and pepper and pulse to blend again.

    Broccoli added to Basil, Pine nuts, garlic blended in mini food processor for Broccoli Pesto Pasta. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner
  3. Once everything is fully blended, scoop out into a large bowl (large enough for pasta) and mix in the grated parmesan cheese.

    Parmesan Cheese added to pesto in a bowl for Broccoli Pesto Pasta. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner
  4. When the pasta is finished cooking, scoop out with a strainer, saving the pasta water, and transfer to the pesto bowl. Add a 1/2 cup of the pasta water and then mix to combine the pasta and the pesto. You can add more pasta water if needed. Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and/or parmesan cheese as needed/desired.

    Broccoli Pesto Pasta in pot with spoon with pine nuts and basil on counter. It's delicious AND good for you!  It has all of the classic pesto flavors from garlic, basil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts.  But the flavor is a bit more mellow by adding broccoli! #broccolirecipes #pesto #pasta #easydinner #dinnerideas #familydinner