It’s been quite a week for me. Work’s been stressful, my website broke for awhile there, and the weather went from amazing to freezing. Why, Nashville?! All I want to do is curl up on the couch with a bowl of pasta and watch more reruns of The Office. This baked rigatoni with sausage, kale and fennel is hearty, filling, and so comforting. It’s not a big pain to make, and let’s be honest, baked pasta is ten times better than not baked. It’s your opportunity to squeeze in a little extra cheese and give it a nice crispy top. What’s dinner without a little texture?
If you’re unsure about fennel, it has a kind of licorice-y flavor. Did I lose you? Don’t be scared because it’s not too strong. It’s like an onion, but it’s a little crunchier. It pairs perfectly with Italian Sausage which almost always has fennel seeds in it. Plus fennel’s in season right now, so it’s a great time to find it at the grocery. And of course, the wilted kale is representing our leafy green vegetable food group! This is the perfect winter pasta recipe.
Let’s get started! First, you’ll brown your sausage, drain it, and set it aside.
To chop fennel, cut off all the leafy green bits, so you’re left with the root ball. Halve this, and using a knife, cut out the bottom like a triangle in the below photo. Then turn the fennel, cut side down, and slice thinly like an onion. I’d cut these long pieces in half, so that you have more bite size pieces of fennel.
Then saute your fennel in oil for a few minutes until brown. Then add white wine and simmer down until the wine is gone. Add the kale and wilt it a bit. Add the sausage back in. Then add the milk, a cup of the ricotta, salt and pepper, and butter. Turn the heat to low and mix it together until everything is coated. Add in your cooked rigatoni and a splash of pasta water.
Pour it all into a buttered baking dish and top with the remaining ricotta in little dollops.
Sprinkle the parmesan on top and bake for 25 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown.
There it is! A delicious, cheesy pasta with lots of flavor. Super easy, and with some of my favorite seasonal veggies!
What are some of your favorite winter comfort foods? See the full recipe below!
- 1 lb rigatoni
- 1 tbsp olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 1 lb ground Italian Sausage, hot or mild
- 1 fennel bulb
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, stems discarded
- ⅔ cup dry white wine
- 1 small bunch of kale, chopped, stems removed
- 1 tbsp butter
- ⅔ cup milk
- 1½ cups ricotta
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter a 9x14 baking dish and set aside.
- In a large pot, add 4 qts of water and bring to a boil. Boil pasta to al dente (about 8-10 mins), reserving ½ cup pasta water. Drain, cover with a towel, and set aside.
- While the pasta is boiling, in a large heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven, add 1 tbsp olive oil. Bring to medium high heat and add the sausage, chopping it into small pieces with a spatula while you cook. When there are no pink spots remaining, drain the oil into a grease jar. Then pour the sausage into a bowl, reserving for later.
- In the same pot, add the fennel and saute over medium high heat for about 5 minutes, until fennel is slightly brown. Add the white wine and cook until all the wine has evaporated. Add the kale and saute until the kale is wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the sausage back to the pot with the kale and fennel. Pour in the butter, milk, thyme leaves, 1 cup of the ricotta and reduce to low heat, stirring to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the pasta and ½ cup of pasta water into the sauce mixture and stir to combine.
- Pour the pasta mixture into the buttered dish and spoon the remaining ricotta sporadically over the top of the pasta. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the pasta and bake for 25 minutes, or until the top of the pasta is browned.