Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, Mascarpone + Walnuts

This Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, Mascarpone + Walnuts is a rich, flavorful pasta recipe that's made with only 6 ingredients and can be on your table in under 30 minutes! Sweet Italian sausage gets browned and simmered with canned crushed tomatoes and garlic, then creamy Mascarpone cheese gets stirred in to make it rich, velvety and oh so creamy. It gets tossed with al dente pasta and finished with a shower of crunchy chopped walnuts. It might sound strange, but it's out of this world delicious.

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an overhead shot of a table with 2 bowls and a pan of rigatoni, some chopped walnuts, forks and a napkin

This recipe is a mash-up of two of the best pasta dishes I ate in Tuscany during my trip to Italy in 2015. It exemplifies the simplicity of great Italian cooking because it relies on high quality ingredients and basic techniques to produce perfectly balanced flavors and textures.

Why this recipe works

  • Only 6 ingredients.
  • Takes less than 30 minutes.
  • Gluten-free adaptable.
  • Great for entertaining.
  • Great for busy weeknights.
  • Beginner-level easy.
  • Simple, unique and satisfying.
close up side view of rigatoni with sausage, mascarpone and walnuts

Essential Ingredients

  • Sweet Italian Sausage - The quality of the sausage you use will make all the difference because it's the main flavor in the recipe. Most of the commercial Italian sausage sold at grocery stores is bland and unappealing. I am lucky to live near a butcher who makes phenomenal homemade Italian sausage, but not everyone is so lucky. It's worth seeking out the good stuff, and if you can't find it locally, consider buying some online.
  • Mascarpone Cheese - This is also known as Italian cream cheese, although it is much more delicate than American cream cheese. It's not as thick or as salty or tangy and has a unique, but mild flavor. It makes the sauce rich and velvety and is essential to this recipe. You can substitute heavy cream if you can't find it, but it will lack the complexity that Mascarpone brings to the table (same with my wild mushroom risotto).
  • Pasta - Rigatoni is my preferred pasta shape for this recipe, but you can substitute any other short pasta shape that you like. Look for pasta that's labeled as "bronze cut," which means it has a slightly rough texture that helps sauces cling better (and usually means its better quality).
A pan with Rigatoni and a wooden spoon sticking out

Step by Step Instructions

1. Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring it up to a boil.

2. Add the sausage to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Use a spatula to break it up into little bits as it cooks. When the sausage is browned, add the garlic cloves and cook for about a minute

3. Add the crushed tomatoes, lower the heat and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

4. Add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water, then drop in the pasta, give it a stir, and cook until al dente (follow package directions as time will vary with each brand). 

5. While the pasta cooks, stir the mascarpone into the tomato sauce until blended. Remove the garlic cloves and discard if desired (I always leave them in). 

6. Scoop out a cup of pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta when it's ready, then add it to the pan with the sauce. Toss around for a few minutes until fully each piece of pasta is fully coated in sauce. Add more pasta water a little bit at a time to help loosen it up if the sauce is too thick. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

7. Sprinkle with the chopped walnuts, then serve immediately.

a close up of a wooden spoon mixing rigatoni with Italian sausage, mascarpone and walnuts

Tips for Success

  • You don't want the walnuts to be deeply toasted for this dish. I like to perk them up in a 350 degree oven for ~5 minutes or so to make them extra crunchy and give them a little boost of flavor. But don't let them get browned.
  • Follow package directions for your pasta, as all brands cook a little differently. Set a timer and taste it towards the end to make sure it's perfectly al dente.
  • If you're planning to make this with a chick pea or lentil pasta, be sure to drain and rinse the pasta under warm running water to remove any excess starch before adding it to the sauce. Then use plain tap water rather than pasta cooking water to add to the sauce. It will have better flavor this way.
  • Try to chop the walnuts as finely as possible without any big chunks for the optimal texture.
a bowl of rigatoni pasta with other bowls and plates in the background

Faq about Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, Mascarpone + Walnuts

What is Rigatoni?

Rigatoni is a short, tube-shaped pasta that has ridges down its sides to help sauces cling to it. It's bigger than penne or ziti, making it great for chunky, meaty sauces like this one.

What is Mascarpone?

Mascarpone is often described as Italian cream cheese, which is a fair description, but Mascarpone has a very different flavor than American cream cheese. It's softer, less dense, smoother, milder, not as tangy and has a delicate, yet distinctive funk to it. I love it. And it's what makes this pasta dish so special.

Can this pasta be made gluten free?

Yes! I find that not all pasta sauces adapt well to gluten free pastas. However, this recipe works beautifully with chick pea pasta and lentil pasta in particular. There is so much flavor in the sauce that you can barely tell the difference.

Walnuts on top of pasta instead of grated cheese? Really?

Yes! I know it sounds weird, but it's SO good. The walnuts add a slightly sweet, nutty flavor and a crunchy texture that really tie the dish together and make it come alive. I first tried walnuts on pasta at a little trattoria in San Gimignano, a small medieval town in Tuscany, and absolutely fell in love. Don't be tempted to swap them out for grated cheese - save that for your other pasta.

Can this pasta be made ahead?

Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, Mascarpone + Walnuts is great for entertaining because it can be mostly made ahead and then finished right before serving. Brown the sausage and make the sauce in advance, chop the walnuts and have the pot of water on the stove ready to boil. When it's time for dinner, all you have to do is cook the pasta and toss it together. That's it!

What should I serve with Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, Mascarpone and Walnuts?

This meal is pretty complete on its own. Round it out with a simple salad and/ or a side of sautéed spinach, maybe a little garlic bread and definitely Italian red wine.

overhead shot of a white bowl with rigatoni and a fork

Did you make this recipe and LOVE it? Please leave a star ⭐️ rating and/or comment to help other readers. I absolutely love hearing from you and do my best to answer all questions and comments. I love seeing when you make my recipes, so please tag me @ColeyCooks on Instagram and I will repost!

A pan with Rigatoni and a wooden spoon sticking out
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Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, Mascarpone + Walnuts

This Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, Mascarpone + Walnuts is a rich, flavorful pasta recipe that can be on your table in under 30 minutes! Perfectly al dente Rigatoni pasta tossed in a velvety Mascarpone tomato sauce and finished with a shower of crunchy chopped walnuts. It might sound strange, but it's absolutely to die for. Only 6 ingredients required!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 985kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage removed from casing
  • 2 whole cloves garlic gently crushed with the side of a knife
  • 1 ½ cups canned crushed tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste plus plenty of salt for the pasta water
  • ½ lb Rigatoni or any other short shaped pasta * see note
  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup walnuts finely chopped

Instructions

  1. Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring it up to a boil.
  2. Add the sausage to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Use a spatula to break it up into little bits as it cooks. When the sausage is browned, add the garlic cloves and cook for about a minute.
  3. Add the crushed tomatoes, lower the heat and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  4. Add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water, then drop in the pasta, give it a stir, and cook until al dente (follow package directions as time will vary with each brand). 
  5. While the pasta cooks, stir the mascarpone into the tomato sauce until blended. Remove the garlic cloves and discard if desired (I always leave them in). 
  6. Scoop out a cup of pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta when it's ready, then add it to the pan with the sauce. Toss around for a few minutes until fully each piece of pasta is fully coated in sauce. Add more pasta water a little bit at a time to help loosen it up if the sauce is too thick. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
  7. Sprinkle with the chopped walnuts, then serve immediately.

Notes

*This recipe works very well with chick pea and lentil pasta for a healthier, gluten free version. If using, be sure to rinse the pasta under warm water after draining and before adding to the sauce and use plain tap water in place of pasta water to add in.

Nutrition

Calories: 985kcal | Carbohydrates: 53g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 72g | Saturated Fat: 30g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 12g | Monounsaturated Fat: 18g | Cholesterol: 143mg | Sodium: 984mg | Potassium: 750mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 992IU | Vitamin C: 11mg | Calcium: 160mg | Iron: 4mg

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9 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Love this recipe! So simple and easy to make. Did I mention how delicious and rich it turned out? Can’t wait to wow my family and friends ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  2. 5 stars
    Hi Nicole,
    I see the recipe calls for 1/2 lb of pasta, but serves 4 pp. I’m wondering if it should be 1 lb of pasta.

    1. Great question! This is the correct amount. The pasta is very rich, so 1/2 lb feeds 4 nicely, especially if you serve it with bread, salad and/or sides. If you are big eaters and are not serving anything on the side, I recommend doubling the entire recipe, not just the pasta. Let me know if you try it!