Introduction: Italian Sausage, White Bean and Kale Pasta Sauce Recipe

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This pasta sauce is one of my favorites to make! It comes together super quickly in a slow cooker and requires no cooking beforehand. I tend to make this when I know I'm going to be extra busy for a while - it's very filling and tastes even better in the days after cooking. :D

Much of the flavor in this sauce comes from the Italian sausage - the spicier your sausage is, the better! I normally try to use locally made sausage, but this time I could only find the name brand stuff. For the white beans, I prefer to use Great Northern, but Cannellini beans can also be used. (Just keep in mind that Cannellini beans have a much firmer texture.) The kale can be any type you like! I've used Tuscan, red and curly kale and they've all been delicious.

Step 1: Ingredients


  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage
  • 2 x 28 oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 2 x 14.5 oz cans white beans, mostly drained
  • 1 bunch kale
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cooked pasta, gnocchi or polenta to serve sauce over

I prefer to make this recipe in a slow cooker, but you could also do it on the stove top!

In the slow cooker, I most often cook it for about 4 hours on high, but you could also do 6-8 hours on low! On the stovetop, just simmer the sauce for a few hours.

This recipe is modified from Half Baked Harvest.

Step 2: Assembling the Sauce Base

The first thing you'll want to do is open up your canned tomatoes. Using your hands, crush the whole tomatoes into small pieces in the slow cooker.

Once that's done, open your beans and mostly drain them - no need for rinsing, but you don't want all the liquid from the beans. :)

Add in the bay leaves, oregano, basil, tomato paste, and minced garlic. Give everything a good stir and set the slow cooker to your preferred heat setting.

Step 3: Make the Meatballs and Add to Sauce

Now we'll form the Italian sausage into tiny meatballs! Slice through the sausage casings and remove them. Then pinch off a small amount of the sausage and roll it into a ball between your hands.

For each link, I was able to make 12 meatballs. Keep them fairly small - about an inch across.

Once those are made, drop them into the sauce and gently stir it all together. (The meatballs are a little fragile when uncooked, but will firm up really well soon!)

Step 4: Cover and Cook

Once everything is in the pot, cover it and cook. We're going to let it cook for a long time before adding the kale so it keeps its texture. :)

Slow cooker instructions:

  • 4 hours on high, or 6-8 hours on low

Stovetop instructions:

  • 3-4 hours of simmering, covered, stirring every now and then

At the end of this cooking time, you may want to skim the fat from the top of the sauce. Because we did not cook the sausage before we added it, fat tends to ooze out into the sauce. I only skim it if it's a ton - do whatever sounds good to you.

P.S. We're putting in the kale next, so you may want to fish out the bay leaves now. They can be hard to find once the kale is added!

Step 5: Cut Up the Kale

Run the kale under clean water to rinse off any bugs, dirt or other weirdness.

Chop up the kale into bite sized pieces. I like to cut the leaves straight down the middle, fold them in half and cut them into strips.

Step 6: Add the Kale and Keep Cooking

Once it's all cut up, add it into the sauce and stir well.

Cover again with the lid and cook for 15 minutes on high if using a slow cooker - if you're cooking on the stovetop turn the heat up a bit to medium-low.

(While this is happening, I typically cook the pasta/gnocchi/polenta so it is ready to go when the sauce is done.)

Step 7: Finish and Enjoy!

If you find that your sauce is a little thin at the end, you can keep cooking it uncovered to thicken it up a bit.

Make sure to test the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste! You may also want to add more herbs if the flavor isn't as strong as you like.

Serve over your favorite pasta, gnocchi or polenta and enjoy! :D