RIGATONI TO RIVAL ANY RESTAURANT ON YOUR TABLE IN 30 MINUTES!
This Rigatoni recipe is destined to become a family favorite! It’s easy, comforting, creamy and most importantly, ridiculously delicious! This Rigatoni recipe is busting with hot Italian sausage, sweet bell peppers and spinach smothered in a hearty, flavor bursting tomato cream sauce. This rigatoni is creamy addictive comfort food you can’t live without and bonus, it’s make-ahead friendly, freezer friendly and easy to customize with your favorite veggies!
I am loving this cooler Fall weather because soups and PASTA and there are SO many reasons to love this rigatoni pasta!
- The TASTE. You guys, this creamy tomato sauce spiked with sausage, peppers and plenty of seasonings has to be one of my favorites IN THE WORLD. It’s chunky, meaty, saucy, creamy, garlicky perfection. The over sized tubes are the perfect vehicle for the staggering delicious sauce.
- Pantry friendly: The ingredients for this Rigatoni Pasta are pantry friendly: crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, etc., and you can keep sausage stocked in the freezer AKA it’s easy to make at a moment’s notice and always a great clean-out-the pantry meal to use up those veggies.
- Less than 30 minutes! I love pastas because they are so quick and easy – especially skillet pastas like Chicken Spaghetti, Tortellini Toscana, Buffalo Mac and Cheese, Lemon Garlic Shrimp Fettuccine, Weeknight Spaghetti Bolognese, Taco Spaghetti and now you can add this Rigatoni recipe to the list! Simply brown the sausage and onions, add the tomatoes, simmer then stir in the cream and spinach.
- Make Ahead: These Rigatoni noodles reheats beautifully due to the base of crushed tomatoes. You can reheat it in the microwave, on the stove, or even prep it for Baked Rigatoni by transferring the pasta to a casserole dish, topping with cheese and refrigerating for up to two days until ready to bake.
- Freezer Friendly: This Rigatoni Pasta also makes a great freezer meal. You can freeze the pasta in freezer safe containers or transfer it to a casserole dish, top with cheese, cover and freeze for up to three months. Just bake from frozen and dinner is served!!
Rigatoni Recipe Ingredients
- Rigatoni: ideal for the chunky sauce. Rigatoni noodles are widely available and should be easy to find at your grocery store. I’ve included everything you ever wanted to know about rigatoni below.
- Olive oil: use quality oil for the best flavor. You may also substitute with your favorite cooking oil.
- Italian sausage: I prefer hot Italian Sausage – it will not make your rigatoni spicy, just flavorful. Italian sausage comes seasoned with Italian seasonings, primarily fennel. Fennel is crucial for authentic Italian flavor so if you swap the sausage for beef or turkey, make sure you add some fennel.
- Onion: one yellow onion will do the trick. For lazy days, you can substitute with 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder.
- Bell peppers: I recommend orange or yellow for their bright, sweet flavor.
- Garlic: I use 6-8 cloves garlic and it is divine but feel free to use less if you prefer. You may also use 1-1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder – but the real stuff is so much better!
- Red chili pepper flakes: option if you would like spicy rigatoni. You can also add them to individual servings.
- Seasonings: This rigatoni is seasoned to perfection with basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, salt, pepper and chicken bouillon (or better than bouillon).
- Sugar: I use ½ teaspoon to balance the acidic tomatoes but you can use more or less to taste.
- Crushed tomatoes: make sure to use crushed tomatoes in puree without any salt or seasonings added. This recipe uses 1 ½ cups crushed tomatoes so if you can’t find a 15 oz. can, then use a large can and you can freeze the rest or make any number of my pastas or Mexican dishes that use crushed tomatoes.
- Fire roasted diced tomatoes: are located next to the traditional diced tomatoes. Fire roasted tomatoes are NOT spicy – the fire simply means they have been roasted which gives them a complex smokiness. If you can’t find fire roasted diced tomatoes, then traditional diced tomatoes work just fine.
- Tomato paste: adds concentrated tomato flavor. See my tips on how to freeze tomato paste here.
- Heavy cream: is often labeled heavy whipping cream. If you’re trying to save some calories you can use half a cup of half and half or milk whisked with 1 teaspoon cornstarch. If you use the latter two options, make sure to simmer the sauce for a minute or so to thicken.
- Spinach: use more or less to taste.
- What is Rigatoni Pasta? Let’s talk rigatoni! Rigatoni are hollow tubes of pasta that have ridges running down its length. Rigatoni was named after the characteristic ridges – the word rigatoni comes from the Italian word rigato which means “ridged” or “lined.” Rigatoni noodles are wider than both penne and ziti and is cut straight across, and not on the diagonal like penne.
- What is rigatoni for? Rigatoni is a favorite pasta of mine because its hearty shape and durable structure are ideal for chunky sauces, whether with meat, vegetables – or both – just like this one! The ridges cradle the sauces and allow them to adhere to the pasta instead of just sliding off. Its larger hollow diameter also allows the sauce to get inside the pasta without collapsing like other pasta shapes. Rigatoni noodles also work well for baked pastas because they fill with sauce, hold onto cheese well and don’t collapse. So, in short, we get to enjoy our delectable sauce infused in every nook and cranny of rigatoni AKA so much flavor in every bite!
- What size is rigatoni? The size and thickness of rigatoni noodles varies in Italy and it varies by manufacturer. According to CooksInfo, the size of Rigatoni made by De Cecco is 1.771 inches long, between 0.043″ and 0.046″ thick, with a diameter of 0.629.″
- What is Rigatoni made of? Rigatoni pasta is traditionally made from durum wheat semolina. You may also find gluten free rigatoni made of rice, corn, millet, buckwheat, and quinoa.
- How long should you cook rigatoni? Rigatoni noodles will vary in cooking time depending on manufacturer, size, ingredients and actual cooking conditions such as temperature, volume of water etc. but typically 10-14 minutes is appropriate. The package will give you exact cooking times for your rigatoni but I recommend testing it 2-3 minutes before. Like all pastas, rigatoni should not be overcooked but it is particularly important rigatoni remain al dente so the tube can retain its structure, otherwise a limp tube of pasta will collapse and not hold any sauce.
- How many people does 1 pound of rigatoni feed? 1 pound of dry pasta will typically feed 4 people, with multiple servings. This Rigatoni Pasta, however, is glammed up with sausage, spinach and peppers which makes it more filling so I would say it comfortably feeds six people. You so you will want to take into consideration, however, what else is being served with the pasta and how big of eaters you have.
How to make Rigatoni
- Cook pasta. Cook rigatoni noodles according to package directions in salted water. Drain and set aside.
- Cook sausage. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Once hot, add sausage and onions and cook while breaking up sausage.
- Add bell peppers. Once the sausage is almost cooked through, add bell peppers, garlic and optional red pepper flakes and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Discard excess grease (if there is any).
- Simmer with tomatoes and seasonings. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and all seasonings. Gently simmer for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Make it creamy! Stir in heavy cream and warm through.
- Add remaining ingredients. Stir in spinach and allow to wilt, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in pasta until well coated. Taste and season with additional salt, pepper and/or red pepper flakes to taste.
Tips for making this Rigatoni Pasta:
- Can I use a different pasta? Absolutely! I am partial to rigatoni noodles in this thick sauce, but you may also use penne, cellentani, or any other larger pasta that can stand up against the hearty sauce.
- Can I use a different protein? I recommend hot Italian sausage because it is mega flavorful but you can certainly swap it out. You can use lean ground beef, ground chicken, ground turkey, sliced sausage etc. Just be aware that you will be losing some flavor if you omit the sausage because Italian sausage is seasoned with Italian seasonings. I recommend adding some ground fennel (about ¼ teaspoon) if you use a different protein.
- Can I add other veggies to rigatoni? Absolutely! I love how the sweet bell peppers compliment the robust sauce but you can omit them (and the spinach) and add different veggies such as mushrooms, asparagus, carrots broccoli, corn, zucchini, etc. You may also add additional veggies to the peppers and spinach.
- Can I make spicy rigatoni? The hot Italian sausage is flavorful but does not make this rigatoni recipe overly spicy. If really want to kick it up then you’ll want to add red pepper flakes. You can even add them to individual servings. I always add an additional 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes and if I really want a kick, I’ll add 1/2 teaspoon – but be aware 1/2 teaspoon is spicy – yum!
Rigatoni NOODLES COOKING TIPS
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when cooking rigatoni – or any pasta!
- Use enough water. Fill a large pot with a very generous amount of water, typically 6 quarts of water for 1 pound of pasta; this is typically three-quarters full. Pasta needs enough water to cook evenly and to move around so it doesn’t clump.
- Salt the water. You should always salt your pasta water – it is the one chance you have for the flavor to penetrate the rigatoni noodles enhance the subtle pasta flavor – you can taste the difference. Use 1 tablespoon salt for 6 quarts of water (when cooking 1-pound rigatoni).
- Prep colander. While your rigatoni is cooking, get your colander ready so there isn’t any lag time between cooking and draining your pasta.
- Stir pasta. Give the rigatoni noodles a good stir after the water begins to boil to prevent it from sticking together.
- Cook at a rolling boil. Pasta should be cooked uncovered at a rolling boil, otherwise it can become chew or gummy.
- Start cooking time once boiling. Start your cooking time from the time the water starts to boil after adding the pasta.
- Don’t overcook rigatoni. Rigatoni should not be overcooked or it will collapse and block the sauce from getting inside – and no one wants mushy pasta! Cook rigatoni noodles just until al dente. I always test my pasta 2-3 minutes before the suggested package cooking time.
- How do you know when rigatoni is done? The only way to know when rigatoni is done is to taste it! I remove a tube with a slotted spoon, rinse it in cool water and then taste. Don’t be tempted to bite into pasta straight from the boiling pot-you will burn your tongue! Rigatoni noodles should be cooked al dente, meaning it is slightly firm. Keep in mind the rigatoni will continue to cook slightly when stirred into the warm sauce.
- Reserve water. Even when a recipe doesn’t specify, it is always a good idea to reserve some of the pasta water before draining the pasta. The starchy, flavorful water can be stirred into the sauce to help reach desired consistency.
- Drain pasta. A soon as the rigatoni is al dente, transfer it to a colander to drain then immediately add it to the sauce so it doesn’t have time to clump.
- Add warm to sauce. The sauce should be warm and ready to receive the pasta immediately instead of prepping the pasta ahead of time and letting it sit while you make the sauce. By tossing rigatoni with the warm sauce, it infuses the pasta with flavor and prevents it from sticking together.
- Serve promptly. Rigatoni should be served immediately for the best texture.
CAN I MAKE RIGATONI AHEAD?
Yes! This Rigatoni recipe reheats beautifully so you can make it entirely in advance then refrigerate until ready to reheat. You have three different options when it comes to making in advance: you can microwave smaller portions, reheat in a skillet, or transfer it to a 9×13 baking dish then bake. I like to add additional cheese on top when baking.
1. ASSEMBLE AND REHEAT IN SKILLET
- Take care that your noodles are cooked al dente.
- Prepare rigatoni according to recipe directions.
- Transfer pasta to an airtight container and refrigerate.
- When ready to eat, transfer to a skillet and heat gently, stirring often until heated through. You may need to add a couple tablespoons milk to thin sauce.
2. ASSEMBLE THEN BAKE
- Take care that your noodles are cooked al dente.
- Prepare rigatoni according to recipe directions but only simmer the sauce for 5 minutes so it is saucier.
- Transfer to a lightly greased 9×13 baking dish, and refrigerate for up to two days.
- When read to bake, stir in an additional 1/4 cup milk to thin.
- Top with 1 cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese and ½ cup Parmesan cheese.
- Tightly cover rigatoni with foil and bake for 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees F or until heated through, then remove foil and bake an additional 5 minutes or until cheese begins to brown.
HOW LONG DOES THIS RIGATONI RECIPE LAST IN THE FRIDGE?
Leftover rigatoni pasta should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When stored correctly, rigatoni will last up to 5 days then should be frozen after that (freezer instructions to follow).
CAN I FREEZE RIGATONI RECIPE?
This rigatoni recipe freezes well with the exception of the bell peppers. Some people might think they’re okay frozen, but I personally don’t like their texture. If you know you are going to freeze the rigatoni, then I would substitute the bell peppers with half celery and half carrots.
You can freeze the rigatoni in airtight containers or freezer bags to reheat in a skillet or you can transfer to a freezer safe baking dish, top with cheese, cover and freeze. You could even portion it out into individual portions then freeze.
HOW TO FREEZE SKILLET RIGATONI
- Take care to cook pasta al dente.
- Combine Rigatoni according to recipe directions.
- Let cool to room temperature.
- Transfer to a freezer safe, airtight container or freezer bag, squeezing out any excess air.
- Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
- When ready to serve, defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
- Transfer to a skillet a warm gently, adding additional water or milk to reach desired consistency.
HOW TO FREEZE BAKED RIGATONI
- Take care to cook pasta al dente.
- Combine Rigatoni according to recipe directions.
- Transfer to a freezer safe, lightly greased baking dish and let cool completely.
- Stir in ¼ cup additional water.
- Top with 1 freshly grated mozzarella cheese and ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan.
- Wrap casserole dish all the way around with 2 layers of plastic wrap.
- Cover the plastic wrap with one layer of aluminum foil.
- Label rigatoni and freeze for up to 3 months.
- When ready to use, remove plastic wrap from casserole and cover tightly with foil.
- Bake covered at 350 degrees F for one hour. Uncover and bake an addition 10-30 minutes or until hot in the center.
- Note: Do NOT bake rigatoni directly from frozen if using a glass baking dish – it will likely crack! You will need to let the dish sit on the counter for about 2 hours before baking. In this scenario, the pasta will take less time to cook.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH Rigatoni Noodles?
We love this Rigatoni recipe with a big salad, crusty bread and/or any of the following:
- Salad: This Rigatoni pairs beautifully with a fresh, crunchy salad. Some of our favorites are Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Ranch, Cucumber Tomato Salad, Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Strawberry Avocado Broccoli Salad.
- Vegetables: You can skip the salad, and instead opt for cooked veggies – yum! Roasted Parmesan Broccoli, Roasted Parmesan Asparagus, Roasted Butternut Squash, Glazed Carrots and Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Garlic, Lemon, Butter are all superb.
- Bread: Mopping up the hearty rigatoni sauce with soft bread is a must! We love Soft and Fluffy Dinner Rolls and Garlic Parmesan Butter Breadsticks for this purpose – and the purpose of stuffing our face.
- Fruit: Bright, fresh fruit is a must either in the form of fresh grapes, melon, etc. or in fruit salad form. We love Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette, Winter Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Poppy Seed Vinaigrette and Berry Salad in Honey Mascarpone.
LOOKING FOR MORE Italian RECIPES?
- Lasagna Soup
- Minestrone Soup
- Fettuccine Alfredo
- Cheesy Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta
- Sun Dried Tomato Pasta
- Skillet Cheesy Meaty Penne
- Skinny Fettuccine Alfredo
- Italian Spaghetti and Meatballs
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