Rigatoni with Sausage, Onion, and Fennel

If you Google Ziti with Sausage, Onion, and Fennel you would probably find dozens of recipes for this dish, none of them exactly the same. My version of this dish started with a recipe I came across in the Washington Post way back in 2006 published for the Season 6 premier of a little show called the Sopranos. The recipe in the Post was adapted from the Silver Spoon and over the years I adapted that recipe to my own taste (i.e. more spice). This simple pasta dish has become a staple weekday dinner for me, especially when I am super busy at work. It took me awhile but now I can make this meal in under 30 minutes. I’ve also been known to whip it up on the fly when traveling and without access to my myriad of recipes.

Rigatoni with Sausage, Onion, and Fennel

2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound hot Italian sausage
1 onion, halved and thinly slice
1 large fennel, the bulb halved and cut into matchsticks, with fronds reserved and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon (or more) crushed red pepper flakes
6 tablespoons tomato paste
1 lb. dried rigatoni
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese or Parmesan cheese


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the rigatoni to the pot of boiling water, stir and return to a boil. Cook about 8 minutes (the pasta won’t be quite done).

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil. When it is shimmering, squeeze the sausage meat out of its casing and cook, stirring and breaking it up with a spoon, until it begins to brown, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Drain all but 1/2 tablespoon of fat.

Add the fennel and cook, stirring constantly, until it is softened, about 3 minutes. Add the onion and cook until transluscent, about 2 minutes.

Add the red pepper flakes and salt to taste and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of the salted, boiling water, mix well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the fennel is soft but not mushy, about 6 minutes, adding 1/2 cup more of the salted boiling water if the sauce becomes thick.

When rigatoni is done, drain, reserving a cup or two of pasta water. Add rigatoni to the sauce, stirring to combine. Sprinkle the fennel fronds on top and cook, stirring, until the pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes, add some of the reserved water if needed. Remove the skillet from the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta and lightly toss to combine. Transfer to warmed bowls and serve.


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