Date Night Rigatoni with Sausage and Kale Recipe - Skillful Cook
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Date Night Rigatoni with Sausage and Kale

297 reviews / 4.9 average

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?

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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 1x


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


Units Scale
  • 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. ground mild 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
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon 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

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta!

Time To Show You Off!

Instagram images of Date Night Rigatoni.

One More Thing!

This recipe is part of our collection of easy pasta recipes. Check it out!

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  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    happy Monday my friend,

    Sure looks like a good dish. While I’m not too fond about sausage, Gail is very beneficial to anyone’s health, especially men. Kale is good because it contains necessary nutrients and has estrogen blocking properties that helps men naturally raise testosterone levels. It’s also a great vegetable for men to eat regularly to help them lose weight and balance hormones.I grew up in Brooklyn and know all about good Italian food, especially I don’t recall ever had a day of my life, delicious rigatoni made fresh from scratch. This looks like a delicious meal anyone can put together thanks to your inspiring blog here! 🙂 🙂 🙂

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        My daughter loves when I make this dish. She is having a baby and I would love to make this for her and her hubby and freeze half for them to have an easy dinner after the baby is born. Does anyone know if it freezes well?

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      This is one of my go to dishes- I can’t recommend it enough. Make sure to do wine and fennel – they are super important to the dish. It’s also great with half hot Italian and half mild sausage.

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        Unsweetened, non-flavored, Almond milk makes an awesome and healthy substitute for heavy cream or half n half.

        1. Skillful Cook Logo

          That’s what I use when a recipe calls for cream or milk. At 85, i find lactose has decided to hate me, so I use almond milk. great on cereals, bread baking, etc.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I’m going to make it dairy free tomorrow night. My plan is to make a slurry of coconut milk and dairy free tofutti brand cream cheese – whisk together to get a good cream consistency. And then proceed from there. 🙂

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        I made it with whole milk and it never thickened but tasted good, perhaps other milk would be the same?

      2. Skillful Cook Logo

        Hi there! I love using canned, full fat coconut milk in place of heavy cream! I made this recipe and subbed the coconut milk, it was delicious. I actually have not purchased heavy cream in quite a long time since using this! Enjoy!

    2. Skillful Cook Logo

      I used silken tofu which I blended into a cream consistency – it sounds strange but it worked great, didn’t taste like anything, was perfectly creamy and has the added bonus of low calorie + extra protein! Would recommend for anyone who is lactose free.

      Overall delicious recipe and so easy!

    3. Skillful Cook Logo

      I made this with original nut pods and it was great! you can get it at whole foods near the regular creamers.

    4. Skillful Cook Logo

      Cashew cream! Take one cup of raw cashews that have been soaked for a couple hours (you can skip this step if you have a high speed blender) and blend with 1 cup of water. Amazing…I make dairy free penne vodka using this method all the time and it’s a crowd pleaser

  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    Great recipe! Any good substitutions for kale? Also, I just love your blog (I’ve been spreading the word to all of my friends); thanks!!!

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        Just made this for dinner, and it is absolutely delicious! I left the fennel and celery out just because I forgot them at the store, and I used half and half instead of heavy cream because it’s what I had on hand, but OMG so good! And a great way to sneak a bit of green into our diets!

  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    omg this looks so good! I am adding this to the meal plan! Unfortunately, I’ll need to brave our own polar vortex in order to get the provisions for this one or I’d make it tonight.

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    This sounds delicious! Can I sub almond milk for the heavy cream? If not, what are some alternatives for the heavy cream? Thank you!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Hi Jennifer,

      I drink Almond milk and I can tell you from experience not only do I think Almond Milk is by far a healthy alternative vs. using heavy cream, but it’s all so nutritious and good for your metabolism. If you decide to use almond milk, you can try this silk brand and make sure you get the vanilla flavor. The unsweetened flavor is very bland tasting, unless you don’t mind drinking plain flavored almond milk. Hope this helps 🙂

    2. Skillful Cook Logo

      I was thinking of scooping out the solidified part of the coconut milk can and using that to replicate the creamy vibes. Although am slightly worried about the sweet factor.

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    This looks so tasty. It has a lot of similarities to one of my favorite Real Simple recipes (with sausage, kale, and cream). Will definitely have to make this one. thanks!

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    This is such a beautiful and soul-warming dish! What a lovely meal to serve for a date-night. Thanks so much for posting.

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    Sounds delightful! How do you reheat the delicious leftovers so your cream doesn’t break?

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    I initially discovered this via Instagram just as I began meal planning for the week. Wow, am I grateful I did. Skillful Cook has been my go-to for recipes during weeks I’m feeling particularly culinarily uninspired (most weeks lately). I made this just a few hours ago (sans the cellery and wine, which I subbed for chicken broth) and it was delightful and fresh and delicious. I will be making this again very soon, and very soon after that. Thank you thank you!!

  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    This looks amazing! I’m actually making it as we speak but your directions here are different than your instagram story. The order that is! Does it make a difference?

  10. Skillful Cook Logo

    This was so yummy! We are in an extremely hot end of summer in our part of Australia but as soon as I saw this, I had to make it (and then we went to the beach to cool down LOL). A definite keeper of a recipe!

  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    Made this last night and wow was it fabulous! My husband said it reminded him of a meal we had while on vacation eating at a nice Italian restaurant (that’s a really good thing). I roughly halved the recipe, added a diced tomato and swapped spinach for the kale. Next time I want to add diced carrots and even more tomatoes. Can’t wait to make this again!

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hi! Just wanted to suggest that the recipe may be a little more clear if in the instructions you specify that it’s fennel (sliced) in the beginning and fennel seeds later in the recipe. Sounds amazing, I can’t wait to make it!!!

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    Great flavor! Next time I will not use a full pound of pasta and will use half a pound. The full pound really diluleted the sausage/ veggie/sauce to pasta ratio. I had to dig around in the pot the make sure we both had sausage and kale.

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    I made this tonight and it was so delicious! I added more tomato paste than called for because without, it seemed too white and creamy to me. Would echo the thought of a little less pasta next time for better sauce-to-pasta ratio.