Golden brown and bubbling, this comforting dish is welcome at the table any time of year. Sweet Italian sausage, and fragrant fennel add heft to this baked pasta. A touch of cream finishes the dish and rounds out the tangy tomato sauce.
- Salt, to taste
- 1 lb. (500 g) rigatoni
- 1 fennel bulb
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 3/4 lb. (350 g) sweet Italian sausage, casings removed and meat crumbled
- 1 diced onion
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
- 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) prepared tomato sauce
- 1 1/2 cups (12 fl. oz./375 ml) heavy cream
- 2 cups (8 oz./250 g) shredded fontina cheese
- 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat an oven to 425°F (220°C). Lightly oil a 9-by-13-inch (24-by-33-cm) baking dish.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, 7 to 8 minutes, or according to the package instructions. Drain and place in a large bowl.
Remove and discard the stalks and core from the fennel bulb and dice the bulb. In a fry pan over medium heat, warm 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the fennel and cook, stirring, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add to the bowl with the pasta.
Add the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil to the pan along with the onions and pinch each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender with a bit of a bite, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vinegar and cook until the vinegar has reduced to a syrup, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and cream and cook, stirring, until lightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the pasta, add the fontina and stir well.
Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared dish and top with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling around the sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve directly from the dish.