Date Night Rigatoni with Sausage and Kale

Rigatoni with sausage and kale in a bowl with a fork. There is a glass of red wine on the side.

HELLO to the Februarys.

Polar vortex? End of Sugar Free January? Formal dating holiday coming up on the 14th? The time is now. Date Night Rigatoni is here, and it is here for all of it.

Pasta Forever!

Why is rigatoni so good, actually? Why does pasta taste better when it’s in the shape of oversized chewy tubes with just the right amount of density and flop to them?

I mean, in this case, it could be because browned sausage and sauteed kale give just the right amount of hearty wintery-ness to the pan, or it could be the heavy-handed garlic and crushed fennel seeds making the house smell like a restaurant, or it could be because the silky smooth tomato cream sauce speckled with red pepper flakes and delicate shavings of Parmesan just always brings out the best in everything.

Rigatoni in a large pot with a wooden spoon.

Or it could be because pasta is pasta. Full stop.

Here’s my challenge to you for your next date night, whether that’s with you and your dog, you and your baby, you and your special person, or all three (hi, it me): EAT LIKE YOU LOVE YOURSELF.

So… in other words, it’s time for Date Night Rigatoni.

Rigatoni with sausage and kale in a bowl with a fork.

Click here to see the step-by-step web story instructions for this recipe!

What Else Should I Pair with This?

Things that would go well with this recipe:

Thank you to my friend Stephanie for introducing me to this recipe – I made some variations (hi, kale!) and a few other slight substitutions, but the general concept came from her!

Date Night Rigatoni: FAQs

I don’t love fennel. Can I leave that out?

Sure! An alternative is subbing celery if you like it.

What kind of Italian sausage should I buy?

Totally up to you depending on your spice level tolerance – mild or spicy work here, and both are delicious!

Anything I can use in place of Italian sausage?

Scallops or shrimp would be SO GOOD!

Prefer To Watch Instead Of Read?

A bowl filled of Rigatoni with Sausage and Kale with a wooden spoon over it.

Date Night Rigatoni

  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 6 servings


AMAZING rigatoni with sausage, kale, tomato cream sauce, Parmesan, and red pepper flakes! Perfect for date night!


  • 1 lb. rigatoni + 2 cups reserved pasta water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped fennel or celery
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed or chopped*
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • red pepper flakes


  1. Pasta: Cook rigatoni according to package directions in well-salted water. Reserve 2 cups of the starchy water when you drain.
  2. Sausage: Heat olive oil in a large, deep pot over medium high heat. Add the fennel and onion. Saute until very soft – about 10 minutes. Add the sausage. Cook, breaking into small pieces, until browned all the way through.
  3. Sauce: Turn the heat down. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, and tomato paste. Sauté until fragrant – about 3 minutes. Add the wine; let it sizzle out. Add the cream; let it come to a low simmer. Stir in the kale. Season with salt.
  4. Fall In Love: Toss sauce with the cooked pasta. Add reserved pasta water as needed to thin the sauce. Stir in freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Finish with red pepper flakes and more Parm. Serve with a glass of wine because THIS IS VERY ROMANTIC AND FANCY!


Fennel seeds: I would recommend using 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds if you are using celery instead of fennel. It will give you more fennel-y flavor.

Pasta: I recommend cooking to al dente so there’s still a slight firmness. That way the noodles will hold up nicely when you toss them with the sauce.

  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Sauté
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: rigatoni with sausage, date night pasta, pasta recipe

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