Simply, the best pasta recipe.T
aking pasta is an art form, from start to finish. From making the pasta itself, to cooking it correctly, to the very last sprinkle of garnish. It’s not really something that can be taught. A cook needs to feel the dish, understand how the pasta is reacting to the additional ingredients, and the sauce. This is more true of making pasta than most other dishes that can be executed depending on technique alone. This is not easy for some people.
Harder so, is to create an incredible pasta dish, remake it, confirm consistency, and then instruct others on how to replicate it. This is what most chefs, even at the highest levels, cannot do. There is however one person who does this exceptionally well. Ina Garten creates culinary masterpieces, recreates those incredible dishes until it the recipe is foolproof (without loosing an ounce of flavor), and then teaches exactly how to make it taste like her original recipe. All that is left to do is follow instructions. Well that, and to buy good quality ingredients 🙂
I had been hesitant too try this recipe for a long time. I love fennel but not everyone does and the idea of rigatoni with sausage didn’t seem like anything all that exciting. thinking back I don’t know what inspired me to finally decide to give it a try. what I do know is that it was one of the best culinary decisions I have ever made. It is now become not just a favorite pasta recipe, but a top 10 recipe of the year for me.
It is creamy, luxurious and bursting with flavor. It does’t look like much on a platter and lacks a bit of eye appeal with its muted color, but it makes up for it all when you take your first bite. I will never forget the time I made it for 6 of my closest friends and quite literally silenced the room. Just imagine how good this dish must be that it silenced a crowd of 6 close friends who were drinking wine all night – it’s THAT good.
• When buying the rigatoni, looks for roman style rigatoni, such as the one made by Colavita, featured in the image to the left. (This is not an endorsement and I do not get paid to recommend it! It’s just the pasta I discovered works the best in this recipe.) It’s not as dense as the more classic rigatonis made by Ronzoni, DeCecco, Barilla, etc. It also holds the sauce beautifully and helps create the luxurious silky bite we are looking for.
• Use certified parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Nothing else.
• Although it adds an extra step, I like to cook the sausage as outlined in the recipe, but just before it is finished, I dump it onto a large cutting board and chop it roughly. This breaks up the meat better than the back of a spoon can resulting in greater distribution and more even bites of sausage throughout the dish.
• Although it’s not a “make ahead” dish, it can be a “start ahead” dish, which is what I like to do. I sauté the fennel & onion, I cook, crumble & chop the sausage, add in the garlic and other seasonings and then I turn off the stove. I do this about an 30-45 minuetes in advance of serving time. This allows me about 20 minutes to clean up, prep the remainder of the ingredients, pour myself a glass of wine and wait for my friends to arrive. When we are ready to eat, I pick up where I left off starting with heating up the meat and vegetable mixture, adding in the wine and going from there. Twenty minutes later, dinner is on the table and it’s easy enough that I can handle it while also entertaining. Worth it.
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups chopped yellow onion
- 1 1/4 lbs sweet Italian sausages
- 2 tsp fresh minced garlic
- 1/2 tsp whole fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
- 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2/3 cup half-and-half
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 lb Rigatoni (Colvita roman rigatoni or similar)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, divided
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion and saute for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender.
Add the sausage and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, crumbling it with a fork, until nicely browned.
Add the garlic, crushed fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper and cook for one minute.
Pour in the wine, bring to a boil.
Add in the heavy cream, half-and-half, and tomato paste. Bring back to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt, and cook the rigatoni according to the directions on the package. Drain and add to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce.
Off the heat, stir in the parsley and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan. Serve hot in shallow bowls with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan on the side.