Cooking With Maddie Newsletter #51

Spicy Italian Sausage Rigatoni with Tomato-Cream Sauce

Hi friends! 

Miss me? I missed you. 

Things have been so incredibly busy in my world that I’ve hardly had time to think about the newsletter— which actually pains me considering this is one of the greatest joys in my week. I’ve been so busy that even my cooking has slowed down quite a bit. Cue the identity crisis.

But this past Sunday, I knew I needed to hit pause and do some self-care, and in my world, self-care is cooking pasta. And doing a face mask, walking around the neighborhood, watching 30 Rock, snuggling with Greta, so on and so forth.

And we didn’t make just any ol’ pasta. We made one of my absolute favorites— Spicy Italian Sausage Rigatoni with Tomato-Cream Sauce

Make this for someone you love, even if that’s yourself. Cooking it immediately restored my energy, making me feel more like myself amidst crazy work schedules and endless to-dos. I hope it does the same for you.

Here’s what you’ll need—

  • 1 pound rigatoni — penne, rotini or fusilli will also work but rigatoni is superior 

  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced 

  • Salt and pepper 

  • ½ pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (if in casings) 

  • ½ pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed (if in casings) 

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 28 oz can whole tomatoes, torn and crushed by hand 

  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste 

  • Pinch of red pepper flakes — I used a teaspoon of chili pepper paste instead that I got from an Italian grocery store, but you can also find it on Amazon

  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with the back of a knife or in a mortar and pestle 

  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano 

  • ½ teaspoon dried basil, or a fresh sprig if you have one 

  • ½ cup heavy cream 

  • ½ cup parmesan cheese 

Let’s start by getting a big pot of salted water to boil. 

In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add your diced onion to the dutch oven, and cook until soften, about 5 minutes. 

Add the sausage, and break it into pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until no pink bits remain. We used half hot sausage and half sweet, but you can really do whatever you like, as long as it comes to about 1 pound of sausage. 

As the sausage cooks, it will render quite a bit of fat. Drain off any excess fat. Skipping this step will make your pasta greasy, and more easily break the sauce. 

Add the minced garlic to the dutch oven. Cook for another minute. 

One at a time, add your torn and crushed tomatoes to the dutch oven. I tear mine directly over the pot, to prevent cleaning another dish. Just be careful because the juice gets everywhere. Add the juices that are in the can as well. 

Add the tomato paste, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, dried oregano, and dried or fresh basil to the dutch oven. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat to medium-low, and cook until sauce is reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. 

While your sauce is simmering, you can drop your pasta into the boiling salted water. Following the instructions on the box for cooking time. Ours took about 12 minutes to reach al dente. 

Reserve about half a cup of pasta water. Set aside. 

After your sauce has been simmering for 15 minutes, remove the basil sprig (if added) and add the heavy whipping cream. Stir to combine. Cook for another 5 minutes. 

Add your cooked pasta to the dutch oven. Gently stir so that every pasta noodle is coated. 

Alternate adding your parmesan cheese, then a slash of pasta water, parm, pasta water, etc. until you’ve used all your parm. Again, gently stir to combine. If the sauce is too loose, add more cheese. If the sauce is clumpy, add more pasta water. 

We topped our pasta with a glug of olive oil, even more parmesan cheese, a pinch of red pepper flakes and fresh basil. 


For what’s been giving me life these past few weeks, it was anyone and everyone making the tomato-ricotta tart from the last newsletter. It makes my freakin’ week when I get a picture of your cooking and baking. Please keep sending them my way!

It was whipping up an impromptu chicken parm for dinner, devouring a spicy sausage and ricotta pizza from North, eating lots of avo-toast like the basic b I am, and getting a HUGE piece of sea bass in the mail from Anna’s parents. We made seared sea bass with mushroom risotto and brown butter green beans, and damn, I wish I could eat that again. Thank you Rose & Paul!

It was being very artsy by going to the Cherry Creek Art Fair as well as the Denver Art Museum. It was finishing the book, The Couple Next Door, at Leven Deli — my new favorite spot. Their pastrami breakfast sammy?! Omg. It was also finishing The White Lotus on HBO. If you’ve watched this, please text me. I have to talk about it.

And lastly, it’s bittersweet to admit, but I’ve stretched myself a bit too thin (mentally— not physically, obviously, I just shared a pasta recipe), so I’m going to pull the newsletter back to be every other week. When things slow down, I’ll probably go back to writing every week, but for now, this makes the most sense. See you in two weeks! 

Wish I was with you, 

Maddie