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.