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.

The Last Supper: Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel

Friday night went exactly as scheduled except we added my husband’s parents into the mix, which is probably a very good thing because this pasta dish is definitely meant for four people, not just two. My husband helmed the stove on this evening and put together a damn good dinner if I do say so myself, courtesy of our good friend Martha:

Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel:

  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced, plus fronds, for serving
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest, plus 2 tablespoons fresh juice, plus lemon wedges, for serving
  • 2 1/2 ounces Parmesan, grated (about 3/4 cup), plus more for serving
  • Arugula, for serving (we skipped this and just had a side salad)


  1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water; drain.

  2. Meanwhile, heat a large straight-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and sausage; cook, breaking into pieces, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon fat; reduce heat to medium. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, fennel, and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add broth; bring to a simmer. Add pasta, pasta water, lemon zest and juice, cheese, and sausage. Simmer, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand to thicken, about 10 minutes. Drizzle with oil. Serve with fennel fronds, lemon wedges, cheese, and arugula, if you’d like.

The Verdict:

(Oops, I’ve realized I’ve skipped this step on all my other posts.) Delish! The lemon made the pasta bright and zesty while the chicken broth flavor balanced it out. The fennel was an interesting taste and the fronds look beautiful on the dish, elevating this from a simple pasta dinner.

This is my last guest post as my lovely sister will be returning home from her honeymoon with plenty of stories (and meals!) to share. Until we meet – and eat – again!

Happy Halloween and a Seasonal Favorite: Pumpkin Pasta

I have been looking forward to today’s lunch out with my friend all week. As a mom who stays home most days, it is pretty easy to get cabin fever. I spend a lot of time at parks trying to make other mom friends. This video perfectly describes me most days.

Having lunch out with twin toddlers can be hectic, but it is good for the soul. The best part, hands down, is not having to clean the floor. This may sound silly, but cleaning the floor is my own personal torture. It is the ultimate Sisyphean task, since you clean it up just to have it get completely trashed again in a matter of hours.

Of course, JJ woke up from his nap with a fever, so I had to cancel lunch. I felt like a kid who had just found out Santa was not real – totally heartbroken.

The only good thing about sick kids is that they are super cuddly.

The good news is that I knew tonight’s dinner would cheer me up. Pumpkin pasta is an October tradition in the Buckley household. It seems like a strange blend of flavors, but it is autumn in a bowl.  This recipe is adapted from 30 Minute Meals by Rachel Ray, a gift I got upon graduating from college. At the time I thought I would hate the cookbook, but I there are actually quite a few great go-to recipes that I’ve found in it.

Pumpkin Pasta with Sausage

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 pound mushrooms, can be white, shitake, or Portobello. Or a mix.
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 to 6 sprigs sage leaves, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 14 oz can canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
  • Coarse salt and black pepper
  • 1 pound Penne Rigate, cooked to al dente
  • Romano or Parmigiano, for garnish
  • Chives for garnish (optional)
  1. Boil water in a large pot, get the pasta cooking.
  2. Heat a deep skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and brown the sausage in it. Transfer sausage to paper towel lined plate.
  3. Cook mushrooms, garlic, and onion with a small pat of butter (because why not?) until onions are tender
  4.  Return sausage to the pan.
  5. Add wine to the pan. Reduce wine by half, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add sage, stock and pumpkin and stir to combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble. Reduce heat, simmer mixture 10 minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally.
  7. Season the sauce with the cinnamon and nutmeg, and salt and pepper, to taste. S
  8. Return drained pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Pour the sausage pumpkin sauce over pasta. Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute. Garnish the pasta with lots of shaved cheese and sage leaves.
This is what love and coziness tastes like.

The Verdict:

You know how taste can evoke such powerful memories? The taste of this pasta brings me back 7 years to when my husband (then boyfriend) and I were first living together in a spacious but old apartment in DC. We made this pasta for our little family, which at the time consisted of the two of us and our bachelor third roommate. Making this always makes me thankful for my close family and dear friends. It is always good to end the day on a happy note!

Have a fun and festive Halloween, everyone!

Happy Halloween!