Plus, it couldn’t be easier!
Ina Garten has a way with pasta recipes. Every single time I make one, I’m impressed with the results. And I don’t even like pasta that much! While I actually have a few of her recipes on regular rotation at my house, it’s always this the one that I crave. Let’s dig into why this Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel recipe is so good.
Why Ina Garten’s Creamy Sausage Pasta Is the Best Easy Dinner
1. It Uses Accessible Ingredients
Most of the ingredients in this dish are either in my pantry, fridge, or freezer, and if they’re not, I can easily find them at my local grocery store. While I love a unique ingredient, I don’t want to hit up three different stores to find it, especially on a weeknight. Garten always seems to know this about me, so she keeps the ingredients simple and straightforward.
2. It Uses Minimal Dishes
Beyond cooking the pasta, you’ll only need one pan or pot for this recipe. I don’t know about you, but I strongly dislike doing the dishes, so dirtying only a few items in my kitchen is a huge advantage for this recipe.
3. It’s Full of Flavor!
Unlike many other recipes, this one was developed with flavor in mind. Garten knows that the best way to build flavor is to layer it. This takes some time, but it’s worth it. The flavor building begins right away with the sautéing of fennel and onions in olive oil. Cooking them this way softens and sweetens them, creating a delicious base for the sauce. Next, instead of plain ground beef or pork, Garten chose flavourful, sweet Italian sausage and added garlic, fennel seeds and red pepper flakes. See? So much flavor! Then it simmers in a perfect blend of tomato paste, white wine and cream.
How to Make Ina Garten’s Creamy Sausage Pasta
I always view recipes as suggestions, and while I love Garten’s recipe as written, I make a few changes. First, my family doesn’t love fennel as much as I do, so I cut the amount in half and completely omit the fennel seeds. I also only use one pound of sausage because I prefer spicy Italian sausage and I find one pound is just the right amount. Instead of the half-and-half, I use broth and then pasta water to create that same luscious mouthfeel but without all of the heaviness. Finally, I’m a huge basil fan, so I swap that in for parsley. Here’s my updated version of the recipe:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup finely chopped fennel (1 small bulb)
1 cup chopped yellow onion
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup of dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 pound rigatoni
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh fresh basil
Possible additions: chopped sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives, roasted tomatoes, baby spinach
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add fennel and onion and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sausage, and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until it begins to deepen in color, about 5 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly and scraping up any browned bits off the bottom of the pan, until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Stir in heavy cream and broth, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook rigatoni to al dente following package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain. Add ½ cup of pasta water to the saucepan along with ½ cup cheese and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add cooked pasta and toss with sauce. Thin with additional reserved pasta water, as needed. Garnish with fresh basil and remaining ½ cup Parmesan.