Creamy Sausage and Kale Rigatoni

The holidays always bring about strong feelings of comfort food, and this Creamy Sausage and Kale Rigatoni fills the void so incredibly well. If gluten and dairy aren’t for you, I’ve tested this recipe using a grain-free pasta alternative as well as dairy-free milk and cheese. Luckily, there are loads of swaps you can make to create the dish that works for you based upon your dietary needs, or just use the real stuff. I love this as an easy weeknight dinner or as a solution to your Christmas Eve dinner needs for gatherings large and small. I hope you enjoy it!

Ingredients needed to make Creamy Sausage and Kale Rigatoni

This dish uses all the traditional Italian pasta ingredients like rigatoni, ground sausage, herbs, and cheese. Here’s a full list of everything you’ll need, plus links to some swaps I used to make this compliant with my current gluten- and dairy-free eating habits:

  • Rigatoni or other cylindrical pasta shape (I like this brand if GF)
  • Ground Sweet Italian sausage
  • Olive oil
  • Kale
  • Fresh garlic
  • Crushed red pepper flake
  • Heavy cream (substitute non-dairy milk or cream alternative if DF)
  • Pasta cooking water
  • Mozzarella (substitute non-dairy cheese or goat cheese, if tolerated)
  • Lemon zest
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Tools used to make Creamy Sausage and Kale Rigatoni

I love pasta dishes because they take close to no equipment to pull off. This dish comes together with only a few tools, most of which you likely already have. Here’s the complete list:

How to make Creamy Sausage and Kale Rigatoni

This pasta recipe is very straightforward, making it a welcome addition to any weekly meal plan. It’s also the perfect recipe to throw together the night before a big holiday, such as, ahem, Christmas Eve… particularly if you haven’t finished wrapping gifts for the big day.

You’ll start by cooking your pasta in the pasta pot according to package directions. Be sure to reserve approximately 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid before draining, as this helps us achieve a silky creamy sauce that adheres to each noodle.

While the pasta cooks, brown your sausage in a large skillet or deep pot. I prefer to use my Dutch oven for this step. Once browned, push the sausage into a ring at the outside of the pan to make space in the middle for the garlic. Add the olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes, stirring it around until fragrant, then stir to combine with the sausage. Add the kale and stir again, allowing it to wilt slightly.

Once the pasta is drained, add it directly into the pot with the sausage and kale while still hot. Add the heavy cream, pasta cooking water, and cheese, folding everything together. If needed, you may turn the burner on low to encourage melting of the cheese and thickening of the sauce.

Once the pasta is creamy and all ingredients are incorporated, fold in the freshly grated lemon zest and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately! Leftovers keep well in the fridge or freezer.

Looking for other weeknight comfort food ideas?

Try these recipes from The Ardent Cook!

Favorite Roast Chicken

Curried Pumpkin Chickpeas with Cucumber Raita

Wild Mushroom Farro with Parmesan and Microgreens

Recipe Ingredients

1lb Rigatoni

1lb ground sweet Italian sausage

1tbsp olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced or grated

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, more or less to taste

1 head kale, stems removed and roughly chopped

3/4 cup heavy cream, plus more if needed

1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid

1 cup mozzarella cheese

1 tbsp fresh lemon zest

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Recipe Instructions

  1. Cook pasta according to package instructions Before draining, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and set aside.
  2. While the pasta cooks, brown sausage in a large skillet or deep pot. Once browned, push sausage to the sides of the pan and make an open area in the center.
  3. Add olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes to the center of the pan and cook 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Mix to incorporate with the sausage. Add the kale and stir again, allowing it to wilt.
  4. Add the pasta directly to the pan with the sausage and kale, turn the pan to low heat, then stir in the heavy cream, pasta cooking liquid, and mozzarella. Fold consistently until a creamy sauce forms. You may use additional cream to achieve your desired sauce consistency, if needed.
  5. Stir in the freshly grated lemon zest, salt, and pepper, and serve hot! Enjoy!

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