Recipe: Red Walnuts Make a Great Sauce for Pasta

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

Red walnuts are a wonderful way to make dinner

red walnutsSalsa Noci is a pretty common item on the Italian Riviera, where jarred sauces are a wonderful everyday item. I got to thinking about it the other day—while putting some of the super good red walnuts we have at the Deli on a salad, it occurred to me that I could make my own! At its most basic, the sauce is quite simple to make. Gently crush a fresh peeled clove of garlic in a mortar and pestle. (If you like garlic, use two; if you don’t, you can do without it). Take about 6 ounces of the red walnuts and either crush them with the mortar too or grind them in a food processor. You want them well crushed, but not turned completely to flour, so coarse ground, let’s say. Then grate in a bunch of Parmigiano Reggiano, or if you want a more pungent sauce use Pecorino (sheep cheese). If you’re feeling unsure of yourself, use some of each. Add a good bit of extra virgin olive oil. A more delicate oil, like the ROI oil we get from the Boeri family on the Riviera or the Onsa’s oil from the Mahjoub family in Tunisia would be good. Add in a bit of good sea salt and a lot of fresh pepper. To my taste, you’ll want to almost overdo the salt and pepper both because you’ll be tasting it in the sauce, but eating it on the pasta.

You can also make the red walnut sauce by adding soaked bread in milk, then mashing it in with the nuts and cheese. It sounds a bit odd to American ears, but it’s quite common on the Riviera. I did it with Country Miche and it was tasty. The sauce works well either way.

red walnutTo prepare the pasta, start by bringing a big pot of fresh salted water to a boil. Cook your pasta ’til it’s almost al dente. I used maccheroni. It would be great with the Rustichella Primo Grano Sagne e Pezzi. In Liguria, salsa noci is typically used on stuffed pasta, most particularly pansoti, which means “pot bellies,” triangular forms filled with cheese and a mixture of greens and herbs. It’s very good on gnocchi too.

If you like, you can season the walnut sauce with a few leaves of fresh thyme or marjoram. Or a grind of good quality fresh nutmeg. Chopped fresh parsley works well. If you’re inclined to a touch of sweet, it’s terrific with slivers of those great dates from Rancho Meladuco. Or caramelized fresh fennel or sweet onions.

You can also invert the ratios by spreading the salsa noci (the simple version, without the bread) on toast. Or use it for a smoked chicken sandwich with mozzarella that you grill on Bakehouse bread.