I’m a firm believer that you can never have too much sauce.
Whether it’s a pretty pink-hued vodka-infused concoction ready to be slathered over angel hair, or a garlicky buttermilk ranch that’s patiently awaiting a jalapeno popper to plunge headfirst into its herby pool, I’m an advocate for the idea that the sauce is just as important as the main attraction.
I mean, where would Katherine Heigl be in all of those cheesy, early 2000s rom-coms without the trashy best friend always showing up to make her look like the hero?
I think you get my point.
When it comes to noods (and no, we’re not talking about Katherine Heigl anymore), I love tinkering with clever ways to dress them. Classic aglio e olio (spaghetti with olive oil and garlic) is a winner for some people, but you can find me in the kitchen dreaming up caramelized this-and-that with fresh herbs and homemade pistachio pesto.
Simplicity has its place. But when it comes to flavor, I like to take things a step further. I wondered to myself: what if I took an ingredient I was already going to tangle into the dish, and turned it into the actual sauce?
“Like tomatoes! Oh wait, I think that’s been done…”
I gazed into the pantry, and realized I had everything I needed for a Tuscan-style soup.
With protein-packed cannellini beans on hand, and the knowledge that they make an excellent complement to leafy, nutrient-rich kale, smashing the two together in a pasta dish was a no-brainer.
But the meal was still missing one of the all-important building blocks of a delicious diet: fat.
I reached for ground Italian sausage, knowing its unctuous, tongue-coating capabilities and sweet, licoricey fennel seeds would bring a hearty boldness. Its presence promised a punch in the palate, and served as a warning to the beans and kale that they had better bring their A-game.
But back to the sauce. I’m getting carried away.
Along with the help of woody sage and sweet yellow onion, a splash of chicken stock brought the base of the sauce to life. After a quick buzz in the food processor, about half of the white beans were transformed from pale, bland legumes to a velvety blend of aromatics that was ready to cling to the nearest carb.
The other half were left in their original form, for texture.
A handful (or three) of salty parmesan later, and the dish took shape. The thick, nutty sauce seeped into every crevice of the slightly curved, tubular rigatoni and the kale added vibrant specks of color.
Your dinner guests won’t be able to believe this dish isn’t composed of unapologetic amounts of butter and cream, and there’s plenty of sauce to go around if you’re craving a little more!
Now, who feels like watching 27 Dresses?Print
Sick of the same old pasta sauce? Try this trick: pureed cannellini beans create a creamy coating for noodles, sausage, and kale.
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 pound ground mild Italian sausage
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 cups packed chopped fresh kale
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
- Cook the pasta according to package directions. Just before draining, reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the sausage and season it with 1 teaspoon of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper, and the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage from the pan and set aside.
- Add the onions, garlic, beans, sage, 1 tablespoon of the parsley, the remaining teaspoon of salt, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Saute until very fragrant, about 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock, scraping to remove any brown bits from the bottom.
- Transfer half of the bean and stock mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Return the mixture to the pan and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Return the sausage to the pan along with the cooked pasta, kale, and 1/4 cup of the parmesan. Toss, adding a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water at a time, until the kale is wilted and the sauce clings to the pasta. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
- Divide the pasta among plates and garnish with the remaining olive oil, parmesan, and parsley.
- Category: Pasta
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: kale, white bean, pasta, sausage, Italian
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Cook the Pasta and Sausage
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Just before draining it in a colander, reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water. This will be used as needed to help the sauce adhere to the pasta.
In a large skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the sausage and season it with 1 teaspoon of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, and the red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is browned and cooked through. Using a slotted spoon, remove it from the pan and set it aside.
If your sausage is especially fatty, you can drain some of the oil from the pan before sauteing the aromatics. You want to have about 2 tablespoons of fat to cook them in.
Step 2 – Saute the Aromatics and Add the Beans
Saute until very fragrant, for about 2 minutes, and then deglaze the pan with the chicken stock. Scrape the pan gently with a wooden spoon as you stir, to remove any flavorful browned bits from the bottom.
Step 3 – Puree and Thicken the Sauce
Transfer half of the bean and stock mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Be careful – the contents are hot!
Return the mixture to the pan and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened, for about 5 minutes.
Step 4 – Finish and Serve
Return the sausage to the pan along with the cooked pasta, the kale, and 1/4 cup of the grated parmesan.
Toss, adding a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water at a time, until the kale is wilted and the sauce clings to the pasta. You probably won’t need to use all of the reserved pasta water, but it should be enough to adjust the consistency to your liking.
Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
Divide the pasta among plates and garnish with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1/4 cup of grated parmesan, and 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley.
Even though I’m an enthusiast when it comes to silky bechamel and mixtures laden with butter, I’m just as excited to devour a dish made with a sauce that is as creamy as it is light – not to mention, the fiber-heavy beans bring a healthy dose of protein along with them.
If you’re worried that this pasta dish’s flavor won’t be satisfying or complex, keep in mind that everything started with a swim through a tasty pool of sausage fat.
Who’s got their bathing suits?
If you’re craving even more cannellini beans, these recipes will give you some inspiration for making a meal out of that versatile can of white beans lingering in your cabinet:
- Cheap and Easy Italian-Style Beans and Green Soup
- Slow Cooker Pollo Verde Chili
- Grilled Zucchini and White Bean Pasta
Sausage and sage are a match made in heaven, but feel free to get creative with the herbs in your pasta toss.
Rosemary? Oregano? Freshly snipped chives? Share your favorite green goodies in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by on February 14, 2011. Last updated on February 19, 2021.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”