With so many new Italian restaurants opening this spring, I’ve been eating a lot of pasta and pizza lately. But amid all these carbs, there’s one dish I keep coming back for: The Red Hen‘s mezze rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu.
It’s not particularly inventive or complicated. It’s just the perfect bowl of pasta. I’ve now ordered it on three separate occasions, despite my general rule to always try new dishes. I’ve even tried to replicate it at home, but sadly, my short-cut version did not live up.
Chef Mike Friedman makes his own pastas—a skill he fine-tuned by cooking at home for his mom and wife in preparation for The Red Hen’s opening. Friedman uses three different types of flour to create the texture of the rigatoni, which is served with just the right amount of al dente.
The pasta is topped with a simple meat sauce, “a Sunday night gravy kind of thing,” Friedman says. He makes his own sausages with local ground pork, toasted fennel seeds, coriander, black pepper, Hungarian sweet paprika, garlic, and fennel pollen. It’s paddled with red wine vinegar, which seeps into the meat. The sausage is then baked and crumbled into a basic tomato sauce that’s cooked for three to four hours with oregano, olive oil, and garlic. The dish ($16) is finished with a little butter and a sprinkling of pecorino Romano cheese.
And now that you know all about my latest obsession, here’s some great news: Beginning this weekend, The Red Hen is launching a “Saturday Night Special” from 9:30 to 11 p.m. where diners can get any crostini and any pasta plus a glass of wine for $22 (excluding tax and tip). (UPDATE: The deal is at the bar only.)
You can probably guess what I’ll be ordering.
The Red Hen, 1822 1st St. NW; (202) 525-3021; theredhendc.com
Photo by Jessica Sidman