I'm taking a break from the healthy recipe posts to celebrate and bring you an absolutely amazing pasta dish, Ina Garten's Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel!
You see, ever since January, I have completely overhauled my lifestyle. I completely changed my diet, cutting out almost all starchy foods in favor of lean meats, eggs, and vegetables. I do allow some fruits (no more than 2 per day) and some dairy (I could never give up cheese). I also try to move my body as much as possible (walks in the mornings, parking as far away as I can, always taking the stairs, making it a point to get up and move every hour, stretching, cleaning, etc). I never drank anything else besides water before, but I also seriously upped my water intake. I did this faithfully for seven months. It was hard. So very hard. There were weeks I stepped on the scale and didn't lose a pound. Sometimes I would go two weeks without losing any weight at all. Those weeks were devastating. I told myself it didn't matter how fast I lost the weight. It wasn't a race. The important thing was that I felt SO MUCH better. I stuck with it.
Folks, IT TOOK ME SEVEN MONTHS TO LOSE 25 POUNDS! It was not easy! I still have about 25 additional pounds I would like to lose, but I am allowing myself to take a break for a week or two to celebrate, maintain the weight loss, and recharge.
Ina's Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel was a recipe I kept seeing pop up on a Barefoot Contessa Facebook group. Folks were making it almost daily and so in love with it! I watched for a month or so while people hailed this dish as one of the VERY BEST PASTA DISHES THEY'VE EVER EATEN! I simply could not wait to try it! I knew it was going to be worth the splurge, so I decided that this was going to be my celebration meal.
I was skeptical because guess what? I have NEVER liked fennel. However, I decided I was going to give it a go and I am so glad I did! I can vouch for this dish y'all! It has what every other pasta dish is missing. Maybe it's the fennel? Maybe it's the crushed fennel seeds? Maybe it's the cream? Nevertheless, this is THE PASTA DISH to make right now. I have literally told everyone I know about it, and I am telling you now, this is hands down one of the top 5 recipes I've ever made on my blog... and I've logged over 1000 recipes on this blog!
Do not skimp on the fennel. Do not leave anything out! If you have a hard time finding fresh fennel, then keep searching. If you have a hard time finding fennel seeds as I did, keep searching. You have to follow this recipe to a T. Do not leave out the wine or try to be healthy and skimp on the cream. However, if you are vegetarian, then know that you should still try this. Use any sausage or meat substitute. Trust me on this one! This pasta dish begs to be made!
Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel
Adapted from Food Network
by Ina Garten
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
salt and black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup half-and-half
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound rigatoni
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 cup freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, divided
*Notes: Sometimes fennel can be hard to find. Keep searching. Do not leave out any ingredient in this dish as it is perfect the way it's written. Go ahead and buy a little extra fennel to make sure you have enough. I had to buy 3 bulbs of fennel to equal 3 cups chopped! Two cloves of garlic could be a small amount. Best to make sure they're big cloves and/or add a little extra to be sure you have enough garlic.
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, over medium heat. Add the fennel and onion and saute for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the sausage and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, crumbling it with a fork, until nicely browned. Add the garlic, crushed fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper and cook for one minute. Pour in the wine, bring to a boil, and add the heavy cream, half-and-half, and tomato paste. Bring back to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt, and cook the rigatoni according to the directions on the package. Drain and add to the sauce, stirring to coat the pasta. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes to allow the pasta to absorb the sauce. Off the heat, stir in the parsley and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan. Serve hot in shallow bowls with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan on the side.