The Washington Post

Red Hen Mezzi Rigatoni With Fennel Sausage Ragu

Red Hen Mezzi Rigatoni With Fennel Sausage Ragu 5.000

Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Mar 17, 2023

This is a home cook’s version of chef Michael Friedman’s fennel and sausage pasta that President Biden and first lady Jill Biden both ordered at Washington’s Red Hen.

The fennel pollen is a signature element of this dish, but if you can’t find it, you can swap in a pinch of dill seed or anise seed.

Total time: 1 hour

Make Ahead: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost, if needed, and reheat before adding the pasta.

Storage Notes: Refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Where to Buy: Fennel pollen can be found online, including at retailers such as Zingerman’s, Spice House and Kalustyan’s. Tomato passata, an uncooked tomato puree from brands such as Mutti, DeLallo and Cento, can be found at well-stocked supermarkets. Pomi strained tomatoes sold in a carton work as well.

5 - 6

When you scale a recipe, keep in mind that cooking times and temperatures, pan sizes and seasonings may be affected, so adjust accordingly. Also, amounts listed in the directions will not reflect the changes made to ingredient amounts.

Tested size: 5-6 servings

  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • One (24-ounce) jar tomato passata (see Where to buy)
  • 2 teaspoons fennel pollen (see headnote)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more for the pasta water
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound mild Italian sausage, preferably from links with casings removed, broken into 1-inch pieces
  • 12 ounces dried mezzi rigatoni pasta (may substitute regular rigatoni or another short pasta with ridges)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons finely grated pecorino Romano, plus more for serving
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


In a small skillet over low heat, toast the fennel seeds until fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a plate to cool, then finely grind in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a cold large pot, combine 1/4 cup of the olive oil and the garlic. Turn the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is lightly toasted around the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Slowly stir in the passata, followed by the ground fennel, fennel pollen, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the black pepper. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until somewhat thickened and darker, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent scorching or splattering, 20 to 25 minutes. When you drag a spatula through the sauce, it should briefly hold a line where you can see the pan underneath.

While the sauce is simmering, line a large plate with towels and keep it nearby. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining olive oil until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until well-browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer the sausage to the prepared plate to drain the fat.

Add the sausage to the tomato sauce and continue to simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.

Once the water is boiling, salt it (for about 1 gallon of water, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of fine salt). Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions, until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water, then drain.

Reduce the heat under the sauce to low, and stir in the butter until it is incorporated and the mixture is glossy. Add the pecorino Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and stir to incorporate and create a smooth sauce. Add the cooked pasta to the tomato sauce. Gradually add the pasta water, stirring until the sauce coats the pasta. If it seems a bit runny, continue to cook and stir over low heat until the sauce adheres to the rigatoni.

Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and serve warm, topped generously with more grated pecorino Romano.

Recipe Source

Adapted from chef Michael Friedman of Red Hen in Washington, D.C.

Tested by Becky Krystal.

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Nutritional Facts

Calories per serving (1 1/2 cups), based on 6: 559

% Daily Values*

Total Fat: 29g 45%

Saturated Fat: 9g 45%

Cholesterol: 42mg 14%

Sodium: 1103mg 46%

Total Carbohydrates: 51g 17%

Dietary Fiber: 6g 24%

Sugar: 8g

Protein: 19g

*Percent Daily Value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Total Fat: Less than 65g

Saturated Fat: Less than 20g

Cholesterol: Less than 300mg

Sodium: Less than 2,400mg

Total Carbohydrates: 300g

Dietary Fiber: 25g

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