Pasta recipes with walnut sauce are widespread throughout Italy. And even more so those that include nuts along with other ingredients.
Obviously this is more than justified, because Nuts have been part of the human diet since prehistoric times.
Man has always eaten nuts, combining them with bread when hunger reigns and availability is scarce. The simple combination of bread and nuts was still common in the 50s and 60s of the last century. Frequent and highly appreciated, so much so that it has earned a proverb that many still remember: “bread and nuts, wedding food!”
As is evident, however going from “bread and nuts” to “pasta and nuts” requires nothing. With sensational results, as clearly demonstrated by the walnut sauce that we offer you. In white, very simple, but also much tastier than those who have never tried a pasta dish seasoned even with only garlic, oil, walnuts and cheese can imagine.
The penne with walnut sauce that we offer you are the Lombard version of a traditional recipe in many regions. We remember similar recipes in Veneto, Sardinia, Marche, Lazio and Campania.
Similar, but not the same. In reality, this Lombarda is quite different from the others because of the combination of butter and shallots and, above all, because of the presence of bechamel.
The flavor of fresh (and healthy!) nuts is quite delicate. When cooked, the character of the fruit changes significantly.. The notes of dried fruits become intense and the flavors turn towards notes of tobacco and nicotine.
These are two flavors (the delicate one of fresh walnuts and the intense one of toasted walnuts) both valid in the kitchen. But for different preparations.
In the case of nut sauce (unlike nut pesto) the focus is on more complex flavors: dark and bitter. Flavors that (in case you want to have fun inventing your own particular condiments) combine very well with other “brown” flavors but not bitter. For example, cinnamon, nutmeg, pears, many varieties of honey, etc.
In the case of our penne with walnut sauce, the seasoning is enhanced by the shallots (or onions, if you don’t have them) fried until almost caramelized. That is, to the point of offering the maximum “dark” flavor mentioned above.
Otherwise the ingredients are the usual Lombardy ones: butter, béchamel, parmesan. The latter can easily be replaced by a non-spicy pecorino, in the south and on the islands.
- 360 g short pasta such as macaroni, rigatoni, penne and similar
- 60 grams of butter
- 80 g grated parmesan
- 12 walnuts
- 2 shallots
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Crack the nuts and check their quality: Discard the nuts, even if they are partially rancid, moldy or dry, and replace them. You should have 24 large, healthy grains that you will crush in the mortar, crumbling them thoroughly. Then add a tablespoon of oil and continue grinding, turning the mortar, until you obtain a smooth paste. If necessary, add a little more oil.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and fry the sliced shallots over very low heat. Keep the heat at a minimum and brown the shallots for 7-8 minutes, so that they take on a nice amber color, without obviously burning.
- Add the walnut pesto to the shallots, mix and fry for 5 minutes. Finally, add the butter and let it melt for another 4-5 minutes, stirring with the rest of the sauce. Turn off the heat, add a tablespoon of chopped parsley, mix, cover and let it rest for a few minutes.
- In a separate cup, mix 3 tablespoons of the béchamel with half of the parmesan. Mix well, then immediately before draining the pasta, add this sauce to the spicy walnut sauce.
- Drain the pasta al dente, pour it into the pan and sauté for about half a minute, mixing it with the sauce. If necessary, add 2-3 tablespoons of the cooking water. Finally, sprinkle with the rest of the parmesan and bring your pasta with walnut sauce to the table, leaving diners the opportunity to season it with freshly ground pepper.