Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel

Growing up my grandmother LOVED to entertain. She was always having people over for dinner, and she ALWAYS served the exact same dinner. It wasn't this rigatoni with sausage and fennel. But it was pasta with her incredible homemade marinara sauce, green salad with tangy vinaigrette, and bottles of wine on every table.

Why did she serve the same thing? She knew it was an amazing recipe (and she was right!) and she knew it always turned out perfect (and she was right there, too!). So she never stressed over cooking for friends, no matter how many came over. She never felt overwhelmed. And she always had plenty of time to spend actually sitting at the table with her friends, instead of in the kitchen.

Fast forward just a few years (insert winky face emoji!) and this rigatoni with sausage and fennel dish is what I make 9 times out of 10 when I have friends over. It's RIDICULOUSLY delicious, the sauce can easily be made earlier in the day, and it absolutely feeds a crowd.

I can't WAIT to feed crowds of friends again......what about you? If you're having friends over, you definitely need to make this!

For substitutions you can easily leave out the sausage and add ground pork or veal or a combination.

Or, if you want to make it vegetarian, sauté the fennel and onion with chopped celery, carrot and leek (1-2 stalks of celery and carrots and 1 leek, cleaned and using the white part). You can also add some mushrooms (button, shiitake or porcini).

If you don't have rigatoni, you can use shells or orecchiette instead. Ideally, you want a pasta shape with ridges to catch all the gorgeous sauce. But, in a pinch, spaghetti will work, too.

overhead shot of pasta with cheese in blue dish

If you make this recipe, I'd LOVE if you'd share a pic and tag it #amenuforyou. Seeing your tasty dinner creations always makes me so flipping happy!

And to watch me make this recipe, check out my IGTV episode!

overhead shot of pasta with cheese in blue dish and pot of pasta in background

Rigatoni with Fennel and Sausage

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Cook Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4


  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped fennel (1 large bulb)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground mild Italian sausage
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, toasted and then crushed with a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (use 1/4 teaspoon if you want it less spicy)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup white wine (or champagne)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 - 2 cups freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, divided
  • Maldon salt and Extra-virgin olive oil for sprinkling and drizzling


  • Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion and saute for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until both the onion and fennel soften and turn shiny and translucent. You want to keep an eye, though, because you don't want too much caramelization. A little brown is ok, though! That will add a lovely layer of sweetness underneath the spice.
  • Add the sausage and use a fork or flat wooden spoon to break it up. Cook for about 8 minutes, until nicely browned.
  • If you haven't toasted your fennel seeds yet, now is the perfect time. I like to dry roast them in a pan. Which means roasting them over low to medium low heat in a dry skillet....no oil, butter or anything except the fennel seeds. This should only take 2-3 minutes -- once you smell the fennel, they're done! And, YES, you need to take a couple minutes to toast your fennel seeds -- it adds even more beautiful fennel flavor to the dish!
  • 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, and add the heavy cream, half-and-half, and tomato paste.
  • Bring the sauce back to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt, and cook the rigatoni. To make sure the rigatoni is al dente and not mushy, cook it for 3 minutes less than the package recommends. Drain and add the rigatoni directly to the sauce. Stir to coat the pasta really well with the sauce. Cook over very low heat for 5 minutes. This will help the sauce coat the pasta.
  • Take the pan off the heat, stir in the parsley and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan.
  • Serve hot in shallow bowls, sprinkle each serving with the remaining Parmesan, extra parsley, a sprinkle of Maldon salt and drizzle of olive oil.
  • Serve immediately.
Have you made this recipe?I'd love to know! Leave a comment or recipe rating and tag me @amenuforyou on social media!

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