Ligurian Walnut Sauce with Pappardelle

Ligurian Walnut Sauce with Pappardelle
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Walnut sauce, how interesting!
Walnut sauce, really!

As I mentioned a few days ago, we checked out from our local library, Pasta: Classic and Contemporary Pasta, Risotto, Crespelle, and Polenta Recipes, by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, and Francesco Tonelli. Almost all the recipes looked fantastic and we’re anxious to try more than just a few. One in particular stood out: Bavette with Walnut Sauce. Now, we had never heard of walnut sauce, but, apparently, it’s a traditional Ligurian (one of the regions of Italy) sauce, so we thought we needed to find out if it was as good as most Italian sauces we’ve had.

Now, the recipe we give below has been modified a bit from the original, partly to make it easier, and partly to reflect what we had on hand and what we didn’t (and didn’t want to buy specifically for one dish), and partly to make it appropriate for 2 people. We will say that it’s really quick to make up (under 15 minutes), so, if it turns out to be a scratched favorite, you can use this as a go-to recipe that’s different from the standard tomato-based sauces.

Serves 2

Ligurian Walnut Sauce with Pappardelle

Ligurian Walnut Sauce with Pappardelle


  • 1 slice peasant-style bread, crust removed
  • 1/3 cup water
  • a generous 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped and soaked in cold water, then drained
  • 4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs heavy cream
  • 1 batch basic pasta dough, rolled and cut into 1x3-inch strips
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
  • Chopped walnuts, for serving

Abbreviated Instructions

Tear apart bread and soak in water until mushy.

Process nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor until ground. Add bread and oil, a bit at a time, until a smooth paste is formed. Scrape into a bowl and stir in cream.

Boil pasta and toss with sauce until coated.

Top with cheese and walnuts and serve immediately.

Ingredient discussion:

You’ll note that we soak the garlic in cold water. This is to cut back on the raw garlic taste, but, after making this, we’d probably blanch the garlic in boiling water once or twice. It turned out to be quite pervasive in the final dish. For the bread, we’d suggest something that’s made with whole wheat, although, to be honest, you don’t really notice the taste. We actually used the insides of one of our homemade bagels. For the extra-virgin olive oil, remember that the olive oil market is fraught with fraudulent oils — even in the national brand names. Really! Read Extra Virginity, by Tom Mueller, to find out more. Finally, and, as always, Parmesan cheese does not come in a green shaker can.

Procedure in detail:

soaking garlic
At a minimum, soak the garlic in several changes of water to cut the strong flavor.

Soak garlic. Since we’re essentially making a walnut pesto, the garlic will be raw, but the walnuts are pretty mild, so we want to cut out some of that strong garlicky flavor. We cut the garlic into about 8 pieces and set it to soak in cold water for a few minutes, changing the water a couple of times.

walnuts and soggy bread
Soak the bread bits until soggy, and you might as well measure out the walnuts, too.

Soak bread. Tear the bread into pieces with your fingers and set them to soak in the 1/3 cup of water until it is quite soggy.

walnuts and garlic
Pulse the walnuts and garlic a few times, just to chop them up…

Process walnuts and garlic. Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl a food processor and pulse a few time to chop them into a coarse grind.

adding soggy bread
… then add the pieces of bread while the processor is running …

Add bread. With the processor running, add the soggy bread. You should end up with a walnut bread paste whirling around in the bowl.

adding oil
… followed by the olive oil. Ta da! You’ve made a walnut pesto.

Add oil. Let the processor continue to run, and gradually add the oil in a continuous stream, which will thicken up the sauce just a bit.

adding cream
Scrape the walnut sauce or pesto into a bowl and stir in the cream.

Add cream. Scrape the walnut sauce into a small bowl, add the heavy cream, and stir it around until combined. Set aside while you boil pasta.

Walnut sauce, how interesting!
Walnut sauce, how interesting! But, to us, disappointing, although we’re glad we tried it.

Toss with pasta. Divide the pasta into two large bowls and toss with the walnut sauce. Sprinkle with a generous amount of grated Parmesan cheese and some chopped walnuts.

Serve immediately.

To be honest, we were quite disappointed with this recipe. We had really high hopes, but the sauce was bland, except for the strong taste of garlic, so it really lacked that balance of flavors that is normally found in Italian foods. We actually considered not posting it, but, we thought that some people might really enjoy it, and we thought we could give a few tips that might make it better. First, toast the walnuts to help bring out the flavor. Second, really, really, consider blanching the garlic (boiling for a minute in water) once, or even twice. Finally, we think that this would actually make for a better spread or dip. It would have been good spread onto pita bread, topped with a bit of Parmesan and broiled. It also would make a nice hummus-like spread, but we just couldn’t warm up to it as a pasta sauce. Two stars.

Worth the trouble?

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