This Is Kristin Cavallari’s Secret Sauce for Elevating Any Pasta Dish

The cookbook author teamed up with Rao’s Homemade to launch three new sauces.


Rao's Homemade

Making pasta sauce from scratch is a labor of love that Kristin Cavallari knows well. With three kids, it’s important to her to create memories in the kitchen—but on a weeknight when simmering a sauce for hours isn’t realistic, she faithfully turns to Rao’s Homemade for authentic flavors minus the time-consuming prep work.

After publishing Truly Simple, her third cookbook of original recipes, Cavallari is partnering with Rao’s Homemade to launch a new line of sauces—and sharing how to recreate her signature baked penne in the simplest, tastiest way possible.

Related: Our Best Classic Italian Dishes to Bring Home the Flavors of Italy

Cavallari grew up cooking and baking with her parents. With her strong Italian background and desire to continue the tradition of spending time in the kitchen with her kids, this collaboration is a full-circle moment.

<p>Kristin Cavallari and Rao's Homemade</p>

Kristin Cavallari and Rao's Homemade

“My dad is 100% Italian, so Italian food was always a staple in my house,” she tells Better Homes & Gardens. “If you’re running from one thing to the next and don’t have time to make your own sauce, this is the sauce that I grab. My dad is actually the one who told me about Rao’s Homemade years and years ago. And if it’s good enough for my Italian Dad, it’s good enough for anybody. Let’s just put it that way.”

The three new sauces—Vodka Arrabbiata Sauce, Caramelized Onion Sauce, and Arrabbiata Pizza Sauce, along with Italian-Style Lentil Soup and Butternut Squash Soup—are making their debut at a pop-up called The Saucery in Chicago on June 9 (which you can join virtually).

To make her Baked Penne (a recipe originally featured Truly Simple), Cavallari uses the Caramelized Onion Sauce, which she says has a “deep, slightly sweet flavor.” She further elevates the dish by adding diced yellow onion, kale, freshly minced garlic, ricotta, and grated mozzarella.

A trick her dad taught her for getting more flavor in any Italian recipe is taking dried herbs and rubbing it in her palms until it gets to an almost-powder consistency. If she’s making a homemade sauce for a special occasion (like her tradition of making meatballs for Christmas Eve), she makes sure to cook it slowly—up to eight hours.

Cavallari’s kids “love any kind of casserole-y baked kind of thing where you can throw everything together,” she says, which makes the featured Baked Penne recipe even more meaningful—and to her, that’s what cooking is all about.

“I remember my mom saying years ago that she shows her love through cooking, and I feel like there’s part of me that does that too,” she says. “Nothing makes me happier than my kids being in the kitchen with me, and all three of my kids enjoy cooking, which just makes me so happy. It’s funny when people come over, I’m always in the kitchen. The kitchen to me is just where everyone comes together. It’s where some of the best memories are made, you know, over a good meal.”

<p>Rao's Homemade</p>

Rao's Homemade

Rao’s Homemade x Kristin Cavallari’s Baked Penne with Kale and Caramelized Onion Sauce (serves 6)


  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan

  • 1⁄2 Package (8oz) of Rao's Homemade Penne Rigate

  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 1⁄2 cups)

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 bunch Lacinato kale, ribs and stems removed, the chopped (4 cups)

  • 1 (10-ounce) container whole-milk ricotta

  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon salt

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 jar of Rao’s Homemade Caramelized Onion Sauce

  • 8 ounces of mozzarella cheese, grated


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Coat a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with olive oil

  2. Cook the Rao’s Homemade Penne Rigate according to the directions on the package, but stop 1 minute before they’re fully cooked. Drain the pasta.

  3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until the onion is tender. Add the kale and cook until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture into a large bowl.

  4. Add the cooked pasta, ricotta, egg, oregano, salt, pepper, and 1⁄4 cup of the Rao’s Homemade Caramelized Onion sauce to the mixture and mix well.

  5. Spread 3⁄4 cups of Rao's Homemade Caramelized Onion Sauce on the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top with half of the pasta mixture, half of the remaining Rao’s Homemade Caramelized Onion Sauce and half of the ricotta cheese. Repeat the layers.

  6. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese is melted, 5 to 8 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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