Food

A Review of Ina Garten’s Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel

You really can’t go wrong with an Ina Garten recipe. Each one I’ve tried is a perfect, balanced success. They deliver on flavor and fragrance, and serve up a sense of satisfaction that makes me feel genuinely good about myself. I revisit a number of her recipes, but my winter love affair is reserved for none other than her rigatoni with sausage and fennel.

If you don’t count the pot used to boil the noodles (I don’t), this is a one-pot meal (aka my weeknight gospel). It’s straightforward and speedy, and calls for basic ingredients. The seasonal fennel is sweet and mild, the crumbled sausage is rich and savory, and because there’s wine involved, it somehow makes me feel like I tried a little more than I actually did. It’s hearty and comforting, warms me up on chilly winter nights, and is an absolute gift for those self-indulgent, lazy evenings when all I want to do is eat and dissolve on the couch simultaneously.

The sauce, creamy with a soft sweetness and subtle heat, gets trapped inside the hollow tubes of rigatoni and clings to its outer ridges, making every forkful a fulfilling and flawless bite. The dish is neither too sausage-y nor too fennel-y (even if you’re not an avid fennel follower like me). In fact, all the ingredient proportions and timings are spot-on, with everything exactly as it should be.

How to Make Ina Garten’s Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel

You’ll start by sautéing diced onion and fennel in olive oil until soft and tender. After this, sweet Italian sausage is added to the pot and cooked and crumbled until browned. Ina calls for links with the casings removed, but I usually cheat and just buy it already ground up. Once the sausage is browned, the garlic, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper are stirred in. At this point, things are beginning to smell pretty fantastic and it’s only going to get better.

Next up, the white wine is added, which should be dry and unsweet (Pinot Grigio is typically my choice). Once this comes to a boil, you’ll pour in the heavy cream, half-and-half, and tomato paste, bring it back to a boil, then drop it down to a steady simmer. The sauce will look really liquidy, but don’t stress — it will cook down and thicken up perfectly.

While the sauce does its thing, you’ll boil the rigatoni in salted water according to the box instructions. I have strong feelings about pasta being al dente, so I always set a timer and check periodically to make sure I catch it at the right time. You can drain the noodles with a colander, but if you’d rather skip dirtying another dish (always my preferred option), feel free to use a spider or grab a lid and pour out the pasta water. Out of habit, I always reserve a little pasta water in case I want to thin out the consistency later. You’ll add the noodles to the sauce, mix it up, and allow the noodles to soak up the flavorful sauce. After this, turn off the heat and stir in some Parmesan and fresh parsley. 

You can plop the giant pot of pasta right onto the table, along with more Parmesan and a “help yourself” attitude. Or, immediately pile a heaping portion into your bowl, shower it with extra Parm, and burrow under a sherpa throw with the rest of the Pinot Grigio.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.

Arlyn Osborne

Contributor

Arlyn is a recipe developer and food writer who studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. When she’s not working, she’s probably lost in a period drama or out in the garden using her hands instead of a shovel.



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