We’re Having a (Dinner) Party: Cheesy Baked Rigatoni with Chicken Sausage

About three weeks before we got married, the Husband and I were not so kindly informed that our landlord wanted to move back into our apartment.  Needless to say, I was less than pleased.  More than a few tears were shed; lots of panicked hours on Craigslist spent.  Nevertheless, as these things often go, it turned out to be a surprisingly good thing.  When we moved into our new apartment a few short weeks later, I was ecstatic to realize: I now had room for a kitchen table.  For SIX people.  The kitchen from my childhood home was delivered by my not-so-little brother, we bought six chairs, and last night, we hosted our first dinner party.  Moving to the big kids’ sandbox, as they say.

a real kitchen table!
a real kitchen table!

Drawing inspiration from the intrepid Pioneer Woman, I made our baked rigatoni on Thursday night, as I (rightly) didn’t think I’d have time to get everything done before folks came over on Friday night.  This recipe is far from healthy…but it’s been a whole week since Thanksgiving, so it’s about that time again, right? Then, it was just a matter of making a salad, warming up some bread, and sliding the rigatoni in the oven.

Cheesy Baked Rigatoni with Chicken Sausage

  • olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 pound chicken sausage (out of their casings)
  • 1 pound ground turkey or chicken
  • 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, with juice
  • 1 28 oz jar of marinara sauce
  • chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, oregano, basil, parsley) and/or a big handful Italian Seasoning
  • salt, pepper and crushed red pepper
  • 1 and 1/2 16 oz bags of rigatoni (Note: I cooked up one 16 oz bag only originally, and then worried I wouldn’t have enough for 6 people.)
  • 1 tub (15 oz) ricotta cheese (I promise, use the whole milk kind.  SO much better.)
  • lots and lots of grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • For flair: fresh sliced mozzarella, more fresh herbs
  1. Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute for several minutes, or until they start to turn transcluent.  Add the sausage and ground turkey and cook until browned, making sure to break it all up. Drain off most of the fat (leave a bit behind!).
  2. Add whole tomatoes (and their juice), marinara sauce, salt, pepper, herbs (or Italian seasoning), and crushed red pepper. Let it simmer 20-25 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, cook pasta in salted water until just under al dente.  Drain and then rinse in cold water.  Don’t overcook – you need it to retain some structure post-oven time.
  4. If you’re baking right away, this is a good time to preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, about 2 cups of grated mozzarella, a big handful of Parmesan, the egg, salt, and pepper.  Mix together until combined but still lumpy.
  6. Mix together the cheese and pasta.  Slowly add 3-4 cups of the sauce and keep (gently) combining.  This should almost look like a lumpy vodka sauce.
  7. In a large baking dish, add half the pasta as a bottom layer.  Spread about half the remaining sauce over the pasta, then top with mozzarella.  Repeat with another layer of pasta, sauce, and mozzarella.  Add some Parmesan if you like to the top layer.  You can also add additional fresh herbs (I used basil) and sliced mozzarella.
  8. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden and bubbly.
  9. Pop open a couple of bottles of red and let the games begin!
  10. NOTE:  If you’re making this ahead of time, be sure to wrap tightly both in plastic wrap and then foil before refrigerating.  When you’re ready, pop the rigatoni directly from the fridge into a COLD oven set to 350 degrees (no pre-heating) and bake for an hour.  Probably better to use a non-glass dish for those fridge to oven transitions, also.  Learned that one the hard way…
that's a whole lot of cheese.
that’s a whole lot of cheese.


The Verdict:

Turns out I probably didn’t need to worry about the amount of food – this was more than enough.  And it was delicious, if I do say so myself.  Probably a bit too much work (not that it was hard, just time consuming) to be a go-to – but a great option for a dinner party.  And the best part? Seeing our friends.


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planning, cooking, eating and repeating.

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