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There is a bowl of rigatoni pasta with fennel sausage ragu, whipped ricotta, and fresh green herbs. The rim of the bowl has a handpainted phrase in Italian that reads, "Nessuno cucina come il papà," or nobody cooks like dad. The bowl is sitting on a cobalt blue napkin with fringes. We see a pair of masculine hands holding the edge of the bowl, forking the pasta.

Rigatoni with Sausage Fennel Ragù & Whipped Ricotta

Recipe and photos by Sarah Ubertaccio


“So what would you say is ‘dad pasta’?”

This was the question I posed to my husband a few weeks ago, as part of my research to come up with a Father’s Day recipe to celebrate the launch of our seasonal Nessuno cucina come il papà bowls. 

I was met with a blank stare, before he said something like “I don’t know, I would probably just throw some sardines on top of pasta and call it a day.” 

Sigh. This wasn’t exactly the answer I was hoping for, in part because I personally have an aversion to tinned fish, but also because it didn’t really feel like a recipe to me.

As I continued to brainstorm, my mind immediately went to big, bold pasta shapes: rigatoni, pappardelle, or giant stuffed shells. I also jotted down something along the lines of “spicy, meaty, and rich.” Spaghetti and meatballs? Spicy vodka sauce? Hamburger helper? All of it felt a little too cliché…

So I dug deep into my personal life. I thought about what kind of pasta my own dad likes: orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe. If it’s on the menu at an Italian restaurant, you bet your bottom dollar he’ll order it. 

And then there’s my husband, a new dad as of this year. He loves anything “stewy” or “ragu” like, and his favorite vegetable is fennel.

When I put all of these pieces together, I came up with a pasta dish that I felt all the dads in my life would probably be into: a fennel sausage ragù served with rigatoni (a staple pasta in our house) and whipped ricotta, for airy and creamy contrast. It also checks the “meaty and rich” boxes. Although not spicy, you could certainly use spicy Italian sausage instead of sweet, or add in a pinch of dried chili flakes to kick it up a notch!

To all my dads out there, Happy Father’s Day. This one’s for you!

Rigatoni with Sausage Fennel Ragù & Whipped Ricotta

Serves 4 (or 2 very hungry dads)

Prep time: 20 Minutes
Cook time: 45 Minutes

Ingredients

For the sausage fennel ragù
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
olive oil, q.b.
½ yellow onion, finely chopped
2 heads of fennel, thinly sliced; fronds reserved for garnish
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
400 grams crushed tomatoes (or “passata”)

For the whipped ricotta:
350 grams (1 ½ cups) whole milk ricotta, strained overnight
70 grams (¼ cup) heavy cream
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
salt, q.b.

For the rest of the dish:
1 pound rigatoni pasta
Optional garnish: chopped fresh basil, fennel fronds, and garlic scapes

Method

To make the ragù:

Heat a large pan to medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned on one side. Once browned, flip it over and continue cooking until browned on the other side. Using a spatula, break up the sausage into tiny pieces and continue cooking until cooked all the way through. Drain the sausage on a paper towel and set aside.

In the same pan, add a glug of olive oil over medium heat (you want enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan). Add onion and fennel, cook over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Stirring occasionally to keep it from browning.

Add the chopped garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Next, add the crushed tomatoes and stir. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Season with salt, to taste.

To make the whipped ricotta:

In a medium bowl, add the ricotta, heavy cream, olive oil, and salt. Using a mixer, whip everything together until smooth, creamy, and airy. Set aside in the fridge until ready to use.

To assemble and serve:

Cook the rigatoni in a large pot of salted, boiling water, until al dente. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pasta directly to the ragu and stir to coat, cooking on low heat for another minute or two.

To plate, spread a scoop of whipped ricotta on the bottom of the bowl. Top with pasta and finish with chopped basil, fennel fronds, and garlic scapes.

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