This mezzo rigatoni with creamy tomato sauce recipe is a favorite cold weather comfort food at our house. It tastes great and makes the whole house smell amazing. We like to make it as a week night meal. If you have large enough pots, it is great option for a family style dinner too.
My inspiration for the dish came from St Francis winery. If you are in their wine club, their chef sends you recipe cards for dishes that pair with their wines. We got a recipe card with one of our shipments and tried it out. Their dish used fettuccini, sausage, and a lot of cream. The oregano, sage and pepper were really nice together. We really liked the flavors, and their dish really does pair nicely with red wines like merlot and zinfandel.
Over time I made a few changes. I found that we didn’t really need as much cream. Out of necessity I had to substitute bacon when we didn’t have sausage. Originally the recipe called for a pound of sausage, and now I use a half a pound of really nice smoked bacon. Lastly I use a variety of noodles. This mezzo rigatoni is a short rigatoni. It holds the sauce nicely, and is easier to eat than the full sized rigatoni.
It is important to use really nice bacon and tomatoes since they are the bedrock of the sauce. We get a thick cut smoked bacon from our butcher. If you use a lower quality bacon, it would work, but you will want to drain off the extra fat that it will render. For tomatoes we use the San Marzano type which aren’t too sweet. Many times the tomatoes come whole and peeled in sauce. It speeds things along if you crush the tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the dish.
The only cooking trick is to brown the bacon. This gives you some really nice flavor.
As you get a bit of brown to form on the pan, use some of the tomato juice to deglaze or pull the browning into the sauce.