Three Cheese Rigatoni is the 30 minute pasta recipe dreams are made of!  Full of three creamy cheeses, Italian Sausage, and a delicious garlic topping!

three cheese rigatoni in a white pan

THREE.  CHEESE.  RIGATONI.  Maybe my new favorite pasta recipe ever, maybe even my personal most fave recipe that’s gone up on the blog!  It sure isn’t diet food, but man, it’s worth it.  My mouth waters thinking about the combo of sausage, the three cheeses that melt down perfectly into a smooth, creamy sauce, the wilted spinach, the garlic breadcrumb topping.  This is one you guys will want to make again and again.  I won’t tell you how many times we’ve made it just this week alone!  While you’re here, if you’re looking for more pasta dishes try out our Creamy Italian Rotini and this super simple but awesome Garlic Butter Mushroom Pasta!

How to Make Three Cheese Rigatoni:

If you’re a regular reader, I know that at first glance this might seem a little more “high maintenance” than some of my other recipes, but I PROMISE it is a 30 minute dish, and I am adding some process shots below so you can see!  The one thing I didn’t take a picture of was boiling the rigatoni.  It’s pretty self explanatory, just cook the 16 ounce box according to package directions, start your water boiling as soon as you start cooking your sausage.

  1. Cook your sausage!  I use mild Italian Sausage, but you can use hot if that’s your preference.  Once the sausage is cooked through, pour it out onto a paper towel lined plate, and wipe your skillet of extra grease (doesn’t have to be perfect).
  2. Now, in the same pan you will melt your butter over medium heat.  Add in 3 cloves of minced garlic and stir it around for just 1 minute until the garlic is fragrant, then, whisk in the flour.  Whisk the flour constantly for just 1-2 minutes so that the “floury” taste can cook out.
  3. Gradually pour in the milk.  I do this about 1/2-1 cup at a time.  Just keep whisking the whole time so that you end up with a smooth sauce.
  4. Add in your cheeses!  For this recipe we use a mix of Fontina, Gruyere, and Parmesan.  It’s best to add the cheeses in 2-3 handfuls while you stir to make sure your sauce stays smooth.
  5. Stir in the spinach.  The cheese sauce will be hot enough that the spinach will wilt down in just a couple of minutes.
  6. Stir in your cooked Italian Sausage.  At this point it should still be plenty hot, but check it and if you think it has cooled off too much, you can place it over low heat while stirring for a couple of minutes.
  7. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta in a large pot or bowl and stir everything around really well!  At this point, you can serve the pasta as is, or make the optional garlic breadcrumb topping!

photo collage how to make three cheese rigatoni

Garlic Breadcrumb Topping for Rigatoni:

The topping is 100 percent optional, but, totally worth the quick extra steps!  It truly adds something extra special to this dish!  All you need to do is melt a couple of TBSP of butter in a medium bowl then stir in your breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, parsley, and a pinch of salt.  Pour your pasta into an ovenproof skillet (I used the same skillet we cooked the sausage and made the sauce in) or a 9×13 inch baking dish, top with the crumbs, and broil for a few!

Tips for Three Cheese Rigatoni:

  • It is a MUST to use freshly shredded cheese for this recipe!  If you use any pre-shredded packaged cheese, your sauce will most likely clump up into a ball and not be smooth at all!
  • Let’s talk cheese!  I am able to find all three of these cheeses at any supermarket, in the deli section.  You probably won’t find them (in block form) in the same section with the bagged cheese.  There really isn’t a great substitute for the Gruyere here, or the parmesan.  If absolutely necessary you can sub the fontina for Gouda or Provolone.
  • Keep a close eye on the pasta after you add the breadcrumbs.  You’ll want to broil on high, but it won’t take more than a couple of minutes for the breadcrumbs to brown!
  • We like to use Panko breadcrumbs for this recipe.  But, if you have plain breadcrumbs, or the Italian kind, any should work just fine.
  • Note that once assembled, this will be good in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  This dish doesn’t freeze well, and I don’t recommend it.
  • The spinach is OPTIONAL in this recipe!  If you absolutely hate spinach, especially when cooked, then just make the recipe as is and leave it out!

three cheese rigatoni in pan with a spoon



5 from 14 votes

Three Cheese Rigatoni

Three Cheese Rigatoni is the 30 minute pasta recipe dreams are made of!  Full of three creamy cheeses, Italian Sausage, and a delicious garlic topping!
Prep 10 minutes
Cook 20 minutes
Servings 6




  • 1 Cup Panko Breadcrumbs, or breadcrumbs of choice
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter Melted
  • 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons fresh chopped or dried Parsley
  • 1 Pinch Salt



  • Cook the rigatoni in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions, drain and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, cook heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the sausage and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink.
  • Pour the sausage onto a paper towel lined plate and set aside. Wipe any excess grease from the pan and return to the heat.
  • Melt the butter in the same skillet you cooked the sausage in.
  • Once the butter is melted, add the garlic and cook stirring constantly for 1 minute, then sprinkle over the flour. Season with the Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Whisk the flour into the butter constantly for about 2 minutes to allow the flour to cook.
  • Gradually whisk in the milk, as well as the mustard and hot sauce if using, until you have a smooth and creamy sauce. At this point, taste the sauce, and add more salt & pepper to taste if necessary.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheeses, a few handfuls at a time, until smooth.
  • Stir in the spinach if using and cook for just 1-2 minutes while stirring constantly to wilt the spinach.
  • Stir in the sausage. Pour the cheese sauce over the cooked pasta and stir well to combine.
  • Serve immediately or make the optional topping if desired.


  • Pour the pasta into an oven proof pan (I use the same pan that we cook the sausage and make the sauce in), or a 9x13 inch baking dish.
  • In a medium bowl stir together the melted butter with the panko, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and parsley.
  • Sprinkle the pasta evenly with the breadcrumb mixture.
  • Place under the oven broiler for 2-4 minutes, just until the breadcrumbs are golden.



NOTE:  It's important to use FRESHLY SHREDDED cheese off the block for this recipe!  Pre-shredded cheese will not create a smooth sauce.  
NOTE:  Once prepared, this dish is good in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, I do not recommend freezing it.  
NOTE:  I don't recommend substituting the Gruyere or Parmesan with any other kind of cheese.  If you can't find fontina, Gouda or Provolone are on OK substitute.
NOTE:  Don't skip the dijon and hot sauce unless you must!  It adds great flavor, and brings out the cheesiness of the dish, it does not make it spicy or taste like mustard!

Additional Info

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
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Hey! Nice to meet you! I'm Nichole!

Welcome to The Salty Marshmallow! I'm a mom, animal lover, photographer, & kitchen mess-maker. Here you will find the result of my decades-long passion for chasing the best flavors in the kitchen, all meant to be cooked by regular people with busy lives just like you and me.

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  1. We loved the taste of this recipe but it is very filling and heavy even eating a small portion. I may try to figure out how to lighten it up.

  2. 5 stars
    One of the best recipes I have ever tried! I only used half a box of pasta and I think that was perfect. I also used about 6 cloves of garlic instead of 3. I used 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of heavy cream, which made it extra creamy! I didn’t bother with the hot sauce or mustard. Overall, excellent recipe!!

  3. 5 stars
    Thank you for an excellent recipe! For others looking to make this, the optional topping is actually very easy to put together and adds a textural dimension that is needed for the richness of the sauce. Don’t skip this step! 🙂