rigatoni con salciccia e finocchio (sausage and fennel)

Food magazine covers are designed to nonverbally shout at the browsing reader "Pick Me, Pick Me" ... and then take me home (implied). bob likes to browse the magazine rack at Costco, and this winter a baked pasta cover jumped out at him enough to remember whose recipe it was and how to search the internet for it. Ina Garten, the "Barefoot Contessa", a reliable Food Network source of culinary ideas, and a good chance her recipe was available either directly through her website or indirectly from someone who reported on it after trying it out and liking it. Indeed it was easy to find, and having been in food magazine snatching probation trying to cut down on impulse buying of enticing meal temptations on paper, bob passed up the purchase.

A white meat sauce lingered in his long term memory from  a solo meal that rewarded narrowly escaping being chosen for a Federal Grand Jury in Philly one fine day when he was not teaching, but the case was settled and bob was free in the city at lunchtime on a weekday, so he could walk into nearly any food venue his heart desired. He picked Fork, a well known high class place a few blocks away by foot from the Feds. The choice was a white meat ragu on rigatoni, or some similar shaped pasta—bob is not known for having the ability to precisely recollect such details. No reservations about dead animal parts that day.

Ani and sister Nora executed the recipe without bob's assistance, apart from grating some parm, and served it at a Sark family dinner. Although very tasty, the chunks of sausage were a bit too large and the delivery a bit too dry—not creamy enough?—for bob's taste, which was not verbalized at the time. Left overs were divided up and a few nights later, the leftover pasta revival technique was applied. A judgement call on the quantity of water needed to bring the pasta back to life is brought to a boil in a nonstick pot. Our current favorite is a Ballarino granite pot we grabbed on sale at La Rinascente in Rome and brought back in our baggage. Stirring the leftover pasta around in the boiling water heats it up and moisturizes the sauce, which then needs added parmigiano for the BAM effect, and when done right, the water is absorbed for the most part. In this case, the dish seems to work better as a nonbaked dish because this moisturizing step was just what was needed to step this up to a really satisfying result. Good eats, as our old Food Network friend Alton Brown would say.

In fact Ina's recipe is not for baked pasta, but we love baked pasta, especially when we have guests, since timing is not as crucial. No last minute fussing to serve the dish, just pull it out of the oven with some extra resting time figured in. If we do this again as baked pasta, we will have to add some moisturizing ingredient, maybe a bit of besciamela, to make it work in that format. Otherwise enjoy directly as a creamy no-bake pasta.


1 lb rigatoni, we prefer mezzi rigatoni, let's the sauce get inside easier
3 tablespoons good olive oil
3 cups chopped fennel (1 large bulb)
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 1/4 pounds sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds, crushed with a mortar and pestle
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup half-and-half
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, divided


  1. Prep your onion and fennel, and fennel seeds, and sausages (remove the casings and break up into very small pieces). 
  2. Heat the oil in a large nonstick pot over medium heat and saute the chopped onion and fennel for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally until softened.
  3. Add the sausage and cook for 7 to 8 minutes and crumble it with a fork until nicely browned.
  4. Add the garlic, crushed fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 2 t salt, and 1 t black pepper and cook for about a minute.
  5. Pour in the wine and bring it to a boil, then add the heavy cream, half-and-half, and tomato paste.
  6. Bring it back to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
  7. Meanwhile, boil water in a large pot with  T salt and cook the pasta according to the package directions.
  8. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta.
  9. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce.
  10. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley and 1/2 c parmigiano.
  11. Serve with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan on the side, or wait to grate it directly onto the plated serving.


  1. Ina's recipe from Cooking for Jeffrey (2016):
  2. Fork, a trusted destination for fine yet not outrageously priced dining.
  3. Ballarini granitium pot, a wonderful addition to any kitchen, not yet a popular pot technology here in the USA.
  4. Illustrations available.
s rigatoni-salsiccia-finocchio.htm: 30-jan-2018 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]