Put mustard in your rigatoni and never look back.

By Bridget Hallinan
Updated February 11, 2020
Greg DuPree

If you told me a few years ago that one of my favorite meals would be pasta with mustard sauce, I wouldn’t have believed you.

I first came across the dish when I was looking through Food & Wine’s 40 Best-Ever Recipes last year, a few weeks after I started the job. There was Grand Marnier Soufflé, poached eggs with red wine sauce, ham steaks in Madeira sauce, Soboro Donburi—I wanted to make them all. But what really stood out to me was cookbook author Nigel Slater’s simple, surprisingly quick pasta, with an even more surprising ingredient list. Hot Italian sausage! Basil! Grainy mustard! White wine! They weren’t flavors I would have paired together myself, but they were all flavors I loved. Factor in the 20 minute cook time, and it seemed like a risk worth taking.

One winter night last year, I took the plunge and made the recipe for my parents. I only had to grab those few ingredients from the store, as the others—extra-virgin olive oil, heavy cream, rigatoni, and crushed red pepper—were already in my kitchen. Prep work was also minimal, comprised of thinly slicing the basil and removing the sausages from their casings to crumble them up. I’ve since learned that buying sausage patties (the size of hamburgers) is easier, since you can avoid the casings entirely and save even more time.

All that was left to do was cook the pasta and make the sauce. While the water boiled, I took out my skillet (make sure it's a big one) and browned the sausage crumbles over moderately high heat. After around five minutes, I added the wine and let it simmer until it reduced by half, scraping up any browned bits along the way. The next steps happened pretty quickly, pouring in the cream, mustard, and crushed red pepper. I’d been worried about the sauce thickening up, but it came together easily, a pale gold studded with dark brown mustard grains. Voilà—I removed the skillet from the heat, tossed the pasta and the basil in, and got ready to serve.

When I say this pasta was completely, ridiculously irresistible, I’m not exaggerating. We took one bite, and the love was instantaneous—wide eyes, enthusiastic nods, near silence as we grabbed another bite, and another. There was something so unique about the flavor, a mix of savory from the sausage, sharpness (and texture!) from the mustard, slight sweetness and acidity from the wine, heat from the crushed pepper, and freshness from the basil. Taking seconds was a given, and soon, our plates were scraped clean again. (Thankfully, there were plenty of leftovers.)

I’m not sure what I initially expected “mustard pasta” to taste like. Starchy bites of Dijon? A combination similar to sausage and peppers, which I was used to eating with mustard? It’s neither, and it’s absolutely wonderful—so tasty that it’s since become a regular in our dinner rotations, something we make at least once a month, if not every other. I’m not saying mustard is a magic ingredient that can make everything better (for instance, it makes a very polarizing ice cream). But in this case, a little leap of faith led me to a dish I’ll be cooking for the rest of my life.

Get the Recipe: Pasta with Sausage, Basil and Mustard

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