Recipe Review

I’ve Been Making Ina Garten’s Rigatoni with Lamb Ragù for the Last Year. Here’s Why.

published Jan 12, 2022
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Ina Garten's Rigatoni with Lamb Ragù
Credit: Nina Elder

Last January, I ran across a light in the darkness: Ina Garten’s baked rigatoni with lamb ragù from her newest cookbook, Modern Comfort Food. Ina raved about it on her Instagram feed and because I love lamb, pasta, and Ina, I knew I had to give it a try. 

As you might expect from the recipe title, the dish was meaty and cheesy and pasta-y, but there was something more here. Thanks to the magic that is Ina, what emerged from my home oven tasted like something that I’d get at a restaurant. And after months and months and months of not having experienced that particular pleasure, being transported back to those indoor dining days (if only in my mind) made this recipe particularly memorable.
My husband was similarly smitten with this dish, which made the recipe a go-to when we wanted to feel fancy without leaving our dining room. A year later, it’s still in the rotation. What makes it so special? Let me tell you.

Here’s Why Ina’s Baked Rigatoni Is So Special

In this recipe, like much of what Ina creates, the deliciousness is in the details — and the fact that she never skips the good stuff. 

In addition to the classic onion, carrot, and garlic trio, she also tosses in a good amount of fresh chopped fennel and fennel seed. The fresh fennel adds some earthy sweetness to the dish and the fennel seed provides an unmistakable sausage-y vibe — and who doesn’t like that?

After the fennel, in goes the ground lamb and plenty of red wine. As you might know, Ina isn’t shy when it comes to booze, and this recipe is no exception. The recipe calls for 2 1/2 cups of red wine, which is most of a bottle. That might seem like too much, but as it cooks with the lamb and aromatics, the flavors mix and mingle in the most delicious way. The resulting sauce has a great depth of flavor but isn’t boozy. 

Credit: Nina Elder

Before you marry the cooked rigatoni with the meaty sauce, you’ll toss the hot pasta with a mix of eggs and heavy cream. Not only does this coat each piece of pasta in a creamy sauce, but it also causes some sort of magical reaction that smells exactly like Kraft mac and cheese — in the best possible way. 

While most baked pastas call for regular ol’ mozz, Ina goes with salted fresh mozzarella in this dish. She has you toss some grated mozzarella with the pasta, then you’ll add some Parmesan to the top, followed by sliced mozzarella. Fresh mozz doesn’t give you the same cheese pulls as standard mozzarella, but the clean sweetness of the cheese pairs really well with the lamb and having the Parm-mozz combo on the top gives you a cheesy, just-salty-enough crust on top.

If You Make Ina’s Baked Rigatoni with Lamb Ragù, a Few Tips

  1. Get the good wine: You’re going to need most of a bottle, so you’re gonna taste it in the final dish. This is a good time to remind you to cook with wine that you’d also like to drink. I’d also advise buying two bottles for this recipe so you can have a glass with your pasta, too.
  2. You might not have the right size pan (and that’s OK): The recipe calls for a 10x14x2-inch pan, which is larger than any baking dish in my cabinet (and maybe yours, too). When making this recipe, I fill up my 9×13-inch dish, then spoon the leftovers into some cute ramekins I have. I serve the big dish on night one and stash the ramekins in the fridge or freezer for ready-to-heat-and-eat lunches or dinners during the week. 
  3. Make it on the weekend: This recipe isn’t difficult, but it does require some time. You’ll simmer the ragù for 40 minutes (for maximum flavor, don’t skimp there) and then the pasta bakes for 40 to 45 minutes. I like making this dish on a lazy Saturday or Sunday. You can also assemble the dish on Sunday, stash it in the fridge, and bake it off on Monday for a decadent way to start your week.