How to make the Red Hen rigatoni with sausages the Bidens ordered

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Mezzi Rigatoni of Red Hen and Fennel Sausage Stew

Total time:1 hour

Servings:5 to 6 (makes about 9 cups)

Total time:1 hour

Servings:5 to 6 (makes about 9 cups)


When news broke that President Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, had both ordered the fennel and sausage rigatoni at Red Hen restaurant in Washington, a torrent of questions followed.

Regarding the first question, my colleague Emily Heil delved into geniuses or crackpots, depending on who you ask, who order the same dish as their partners.

As for the second question, chef and co-owner Michael Friedman’s Mezzi Rigatoni With Fennel Sausage Ragu has been on the Red Hen’s menu since it opened in 2013, thanks to popular demand.

And the third? The answer is now yes.

In the wake of the Bidens’ order, a question was asked in our weekly live Q&A: “Any chance we can get a recipe for rigatoni from the Red Hen?” I hear it’s amazing. Tons of other readers chimed in by email asking for the recipe, and luckily for us, Friedman was willing to share.

To sweeten the deal even more, the chef has scaled down and streamlined the recipe to make it even more accessible to home cooks. It takes an hour of work and a few pots and pans, but the effort is worth it for a dish that coats large tubes of mezzi rigatoni in a sweet, spicy tomato sauce that shines with the floral, aniseed flavor of fennel pollen. and ground fennel seeds. (Yes, this dish is for fennel lovers only.) Spicy Italian sausage chunks (more fennel!) add bulk and meatiness.

If you want the full restaurant experience of the dish, I highly recommend looking to fennel pollen, which is most readily available online. It comes from the same plant as dried seeds and fresh bulbs, but is harvested from the flowers that form on fennel leaves. “It’s a unique flavor profile” that channels the Mediterranean, says Friedman, giving depth generated by a blend of salty and floral notes. If you get a jar, he recommends using it in salad dressings and a spice rub for roast meat, fish, and vegetables.

The recipe easily feeds a family for one meal or a smaller household for several days. Once you taste this warm, salty, satisfying pasta, you’ll understand why the Bidens each wanted a plate.

Mezzi Rigatoni of Red Hen and Fennel Sausage Stew

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

Prepare in advance: Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw, if necessary, and reheat before adding the pasta.

Storage Notes: Refrigerate up to 3 days.

Or 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 in well-stocked supermarkets. Pomi drained tomatoes sold in a carton also work.

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  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • One jar of tomato passata (24 ounces) (see Where to buy)
  • 2 teaspoons fennel pollen (see Headnote)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus a little 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 (can substitute regular rigatoni or another short pasta with ridges)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons finely grated pecorino romano cheese, 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 spice grinder.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large cold saucepan, combine 1/4 cup olive oil and the garlic. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is lightly toasted around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Slowly stir in passata, then ground fennel, fennel pollen, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and darker, adjusting heat as needed to avoid burning or splattering, 20 to 25 minutes. When you slide a spatula through the sauce, it should briefly hold a line where you can see the pan below.

While the sauce simmers, line a large plate with napkins and keep it nearby. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining olive oil until simmering. Add sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until 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 another 10-15 minutes.

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

Reduce heat under sauce to low and stir in butter until incorporated and mixture is glossy. Add the Pecorino Romano and Parmesan-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 little runny, continue cooking and stirring over low heat until the sauce sticks to the rigatoni.

Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and serve warm, generously garnished with grated pecorino romano.

Per serving (1 1/2 cups), based on 6

Calories: 559; Total fat: 29 g; Saturated fat: 9g; Cholesterol: 42mg; Sodium: 1103mg; Carbohydrates: 51g; Dietary fiber: 6g; Sugar: 8g; Protein: 19g

This analysis is an estimate based on the available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietitian or nutritionist.

Adapted from Chef Michael Friedman of red hen in Washington.

Tested by Becky Crystal; questions by e-mail to [email protected].

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