I tried Ina Garten’s one-pot pasta dish and now I know why it’s one of her go-to dinners

I made Ina Garten’s rigatoni with sausage and fennel, and it was a cheese lover’s dream.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

  • I recently made Ina Garten’s rigatoni with sausage and fennel.

  • The delicious one-pot recipe features sweet Italian sausage, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese.

  • Garten’s rigatoni pasta is perfect for cheese lovers, and is an easy dish to make for a big dinner.

I’ve been making my way through Ina Garten’s pasta recipes for the last two years.

Ina Garten Lemon Pasta

Me with Ina Garten’s lemon pasta.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Garten inspired me to become better in the kitchen when the pandemic hit as she shared easy recipes almost daily on her Instagram page.

The lockdowns eased, but I was still hooked on the “Barefoot Contessa” cookbooks. I’ve now made so many of Garten’s pasta dishes that I even have an ultimate ranking (which you can find here).

One “Barefoot Contessa” pasta that I’ve always wanted to try is her rigatoni with sausage and fennel. Trent Pheifer, a fellow Garten superfan, has made all 1,272 of her recipes—and he told me that the rigatoni was still his favorite.

“My go-to that I tell everyone and scream from the rooftops is her rigatoni with sausage and fennel,” he said. “It’s such a crowd-pleaser, it’s always a hit.”

Garten says the rigatoni with sausage and fennel is one of her “all-time go-to dinners.”

Ina Garten on Barefoot Contessa

Garten demonstrated how to make her rigatoni pasta on “Barefoot Contessa.”Barefoot Contessa/Food Network

The dish appears in Garten’s 2016 cookbook, “Cooking for Jeffrey,” which features recipes that she loves making for her husband of 53 years.

Garten also demonstrated how to make the dish on a 2017 episode of “Barefoot Contessa,” telling viewers: “You can make the whole thing in one big pot, bring it to the table, and everyone loves it.”

I’m a huge fan of easy one-pot dinners, and I love mixing sausage with pasta. So, obviously, I had to try it.

Garten’s rigatoni with sausage and fennel is packed with plenty of exciting ingredients.

Ingredients for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

Garten’s rigatoni includes fennel, sausage, white wine, and Parmesan cheese.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

To make Garten’s pasta for six, you’ll need:

  • 1 pound rigatoni pasta

  • 1 ¼ pound sweet Italian sausages (casings removed)

  • 3 cups chopped fennel

  • 1 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese

  • 1 ½ cups yellow onion (chopped)

  • ½ cup parsley leaves (chopped)

  • 1 cup dry white wine

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • ⅔ cup half-and-half

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 2 minced garlic teaspoons (2 cloves)

  • ½ teaspoon whole fennel seeds (crushed)

  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

Before I started cooking, there was just a little prep to do.

Diced onion for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

First I chopped my onions.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I began by shopping my onions and garlic.

Then I crushed my fennel seeds.

Crushed fennel seeds for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I used a mortar and pestle to crush my fennel seeds.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Per Garten’s advice, I used a mortar and pestle to get them just right.

Last but not least was chopping the fennel.

Chopped fennel for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I also chopped my fennel.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I’m always the first to admit my cooking errors and, unfortunately reader, one happened during prep.

Garden’s recipe states that one large fennel bulb should be enough to make three cups of chopped fennel. My fennel bulb was not nearly big enough, only giving me about half that amount. So when you make this at home, I recommend buying at least two fennel bulbs so you don’t run into the same problem — and make sure they’re sizable!

It was time to make the sauce. First I added the fennel and onions to my Dutch oven.

Cooking fennel and garlic for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

First I added my veggies to the pot.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I drizzled some olive oil into my pot and placed it over medium heat before throwing in the veggies.

I sautéed the fennel and onions for about six minutes, stirring occasionally until they became tender.

While the onion and fennel were cooking, I prepped my sausages.

Italian sausage for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I removed the casings from my sausages.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Before adding the sausages to my sauce, I had to remove their casings.

I actually learned a great tip on how to do this when I first made Gordon Ramsay’s 15-minute pasta with sausage bolognese. Ramsay recommends lightly slicing each sausage down the middle to help remove the skin, which makes the process super easy.

Then I added the sausages to my Dutch oven.

Adding sausage for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I crumbled the sausages with a spatula.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I crumbled the sausage with a spatula and let it cook for around seven minutes, until the meat became nicely browned.

Now it was time to add all my seasoning.

Adding garlic and seasoning for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

Then I added my garlic, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I threw in the garlic, crushed fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes, along with two teaspoons of salt and one teaspoon of black pepper — letting everything cook together for another minute.

Then I poured in my white wine.

Adding wine for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I used Pinot Grigio for this recipe.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Since Garten’s recipe recommends a dry white wine, I opted for a Pinot Grigio.

I brought my sauce to a boil, then added the heavy cream and half-and-half.

Adding cream for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I used heavy cream and half-and-half.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

This is also when I added the tomato paste.

After bringing my sauce back to a boil, I lowered the heat to let it simmer.

Simmering Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I let the sauce simmer for 20 minutes.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Per Garten’s instructions, I let my sauce simmer for 20 minutes until it had thickened.

While the sauce was simmering, I got started on my pasta.

Starting pasta for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I was able to cook my pasta while the sauce simmered.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I brought a large pot of water to a boil and added two tablespoons of salt.

I let the rigatoni cook for about 14 minutes.

Pasta for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I waited until my rigatoni was al dente.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

Dinner was almost served!

Then I drained my pasta and added it to the sauce.

Adding pasta to sauce for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I let my rigatoni cook in the sauce for five minutes.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I stirred everything together and let my rigatoni cook over low heat for five minutes, allowing the pasta to absorb the sauce.

I then took my pasta off the heat and stirred in the parsley, plus half a cup of Parmesan cheese.

Adding parsley for Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I added parsley and Parmesan to the pan.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

“A little fresh green in there always helps,” Garten said while cooking this dish on “Barefoot Contessa.”

Then I gave everything one more big mix.

Ina Garten's Rigatoni

The color the pasta looked beautifully golden.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

What Garten loves about her rigatoni with sausage and fennel is that it’s a one-pot dinner.

“I love to take this big pot and just put it on the table and let everybody help themselves,” she said in the episode.

The pasta had a gorgeous golden hue.

Ina Garten's Rigatoni

I love that Garten’s rigatoni with sausage and fennel is a one-pot dinner.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

I loved the color of Garten’s rigatoni pasta. It had a pinkish tint that reminded me a bit of her delicious five-cheese penne, which I’m a huge fan of.

The bright-green parsley added a nice extra pop of color to the noodles, and everyone looked excited as I brought the big pot over to the dinner table — just like Garten had promised.

Garten’s rigatoni with sausage and fennel is perfect for cheese lovers.

Ina Garten's Rigatoni

Garten’s rigatoni pasta is super cheesy and rich.Anneta Konstantinides/Insider

The Parmesan cheese adds so much richness to the pasta that my boyfriend compared it to Garten’s mac and cheese (another favorite). Rigatoni is the perfect noodle for capturing all that meat and sauce, and I loved how the sweetness of the sausage balanced the saltiness of the Parmesan.

I do think the pasta could be just a tad too rich for some, especially as we head into the hot summer months. I think if I’d had the correct amount of fennel, it would’ve helped cut through the cheesiness. I’d also recommend using a quarter cup of Parmesan first and tasting the sauce before adding more.

But, overall, this pasta has some great flavors. And if you love cheese, it’s going to make a great one-pot dinner.

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