Creamy Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel Recipe

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overhead image of creamy rigatoni with sausage and fennel in a bowl

Could there BE a more perfect pasta dish? I think not. This creamy rigatoni with sausage number is made with al dente rigatoni noodles, crumbly sausage and crunch fennel (or celery)! It’s made for date night in or a weekend dinner that feels fancy but is oh so easy to make.

(NOTE: This post was originally published in 2018. We’ve since then updated it with new photos, but it’s the same recipe you know and love.)

Creamy Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel Recipe

This pasta. This is last-meal kind of pasta. This is the kind of pasta you eat when you don’t just want any old variety of carbs and cheese — you want grown-up, legit, every-bite-is-a-flavor-explosion kind of pasta. This is it.

I happened upon this recipe for creamy rigatoni with sausage and fennel (oooo, even sounds fancy) about a month or so ago when I was tired of our run-of-the-mill spaghetti night. Don’t get me wrong — homegirl loves her classic old school marinara sauce and long noodles that wrap around a fork combo, with an extra sprinkling or five of grated Parmesan. I’m not above it. But sometimes it just doesn’t hit the pasta spot.

This pasta? With its creamy tomato sauce that hugs every bite of al dente rigatoni paired with sweet Italian sausage and hints of crunchy veg all topped with a waterfall of fresh-grated salty Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley? THIS pasta hits every spot, and then some.

bunch of celery


fennel seeds

The Story Behind This Creamy Pasta Recipe

The first time I made this pasta, I made it just for me and my husband, and there were no leftovers. The second time I made this pasta, I made it for my dinner club, and we finished the meal eating the pasta remnants straight out of the serving bowl with a fork — no leftovers. The third time I made this pasta, I had a small bowl of it for lunch and left the rest of it for my husband for dinner as I was going out with friends that night, and when I came home? No leftovers. So, there are two points to glean from this: One, that if you intend to have leftovers of this pasta, you’d better make a double batch. And two, that my husband is a liar when he says he wants his last meal to be McDonald’s sausage burritos and frozen pizzas — it’s clear that this pasta is what he’d really want.

rigatoni

Ingredients You’ll Need

Here is the rundown of what ingredients you need to make this insane pasta recipe at home:

  • Olive oil
  • Fresh fennel or celery (see Tips below for more details on this!)
  • Yellow onion (I would not recommend using a white or red onion for this recipe, as yellow onions are mild and slightly sweet)
  • Bulk mild Italian sausage (if you can’t find it in bulk form, you can certainly use the links and just remove the casings!)
  • Garlic, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, S&P (all for the flava flavs)
  • Dry white wine (if you don’t have this on hand, feel free to swap with chicken broth)
  • Heavy cream AND half-and-half: Heavy cream is straight-up cream, whereas half-and-half is half cream, half milk. If you’re not interested in purchasing both heavy cream and half-and-half for this recipe, you can just buy heavy cream and use 1 1/3 cups heavy cream + 1/3 cup milk instead.
  • Tomato paste
  • Rigatoni pasta (honestly I would say that you could easily use another pasta for this recipe, but rigatoni is made for this sauce and vice-versa. Go for the rigatoni.
  • Parmesan cheese and parsley, for topping

creamy rigatoni with sausage and fennel in a Dutch oven

Best Tips to Make Creamy Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel

A few special and important notes to mention about this dish:

  • One, it’s a recipe adapted from queen Ina Garten, so you know it’s good.
  • Two, the recipe calls for fresh fennel bulb but every single time I’ve made it, I swapped the fennel for celery (because that’s all that was available at my grocery store and I was too lazy to go fennel hunting around town) and have never felt it lacking in anything, as the celery delivers the same level of crunch and spring-like taste, leaving the fennel seeds and Italian sausage to bring in the truer fennel-y flavors.
  • Three, you can make it ahead of time! Just put it in an oven-safe dish, sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese, cover and refrigerate for up to a day/overnight. Uncover and heat in the oven at 375°F for 20 minutes or so, and dinner is served.
  • Four, don’t feel bad about eating this straight out of the serving bowl with a fork, as you won’t have been the first. And likely not the last. No need to waste your time transferring food to your plate when the pasta — THIS pasta — is this good.

close-up image of creamy rigatoni with sausage and fennel in a bowl
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Description

This creamy rigatoni with sausage and fennel is last-meal good. Made with al dente rigatoni noodles, crumbly Italian sausage and crunchy fennel or celery, it’s everything you want in a pasta dish and more.


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped fresh fennel or celery
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 lb bulk mild Italian sausage
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, crushed or chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 lb rigatoni pasta
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 1 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese, divided

  1. In large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, heat oil. Add fennel and onion and cook, stirring often, 7 to 9 minutes until soft. Add sausage; cook 7 to 9 minutes, crumbling as you cook, until sausage is cooked through and browned. Add garlic, crushed fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Cook for 1 minute, then pour in white wine. Bring to boil. Add heavy cream, half-and-half and tomato paste. Return to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens.
  2. Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt to boiling water, then add rigatoni pasta. Cook according to package directions. Drain and add to sauce; stir to coat pasta.
  3. Off heat, stir in 1/4 cup parsley and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Serve topped with remaining parsley and Parmesan cheese.

Notes

  • To make ahead: Put finished dish in an oven-safe dish, sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese, cover and refrigerate for up to a day/overnight. When you’re ready to serve, uncover pasta and heat in the oven at 375°F for 20 minutes.

Keywords: Ina Garten pasta, creamy pasta sauce, Italian sausage pasta, creamy tomato sauce

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