This is the best thing I’ve cooked with the least amount of effort in the past month. Most of my lazy lunches never make it to the site, but this pasta is an exception. If you have a favorite dried pasta, a few cloves of garlic, walnuts, and black pepper you can make it too. The other ingredients - lemon zest, a bit of grated cheese, a finishing cascade of breadcrumbs and herbs are encouraged, but not essential. It's the kind of meal that checks the box when you're in the mood for creamy pasta, but no cream is needed. You get rich, nutty, walnut sauce from pounding garlic and toasted walnuts into a paste and thinning with a good amount of salted pasta water. Peak comfort food.
What type of pasta to use?
I vote for short pasta here, preferably something whole grain and somewhat rustic. The pasta you see pictured is emmer reginetti. I grabbed it on a whim the first time I cooked this and it worked beautifully for this recipe. The way the ruffles catch just the right amount of creamy walnuts is a thing of beauty. That said, play around with different pastas, and experiment with shapes you love. Fusilli might be great, these cavatelli, or even little shells.
- Experiment with other nuts: You might be able to do a nice alternative version of the walnut sauce with toasted almonds, or toasted pecans instead. Or a blend of whatever nuts you have available. I've been doing 100% walnuts but suspect using other nuts would be great. The key is seasoning well - salt, pepper, and a bit of lemon juice. Take your time getting this part right.
- Add some green! Throw a bunch of broccoli florets or asparagus in to the pasta pot at the last minute to add a veg component to this without getting another pot dirty. We were out of both (yikes) or you would have seen one of them make an appearance here.
- Leftovers! Make a quick pasta & bean stew if you have leftovers. Combine the walnut-y pasta with some white beans in a saucepan. Add good tasting broth, heat, season, and add a bit of grated cheese to bring it all together. A handful of well-chopped kale wouldn't be unwelcome.
If you need more pasta inspiration try this Pasta with Etruscan Sauce, or my favorite go-to tomato sauce (for pasta & pizzas), Curried Tomato Tortellini Soup, or Pasta with Smashed Zucchini Cream (in summer). A fun project is making homemade gnocchi, homemade pasta, or cavatelli. But if that's a bit too ambitious try this Last-Minute Lasagna recipe, Orzo Super Salad, or family-favorite stuffed shells. There's also a huge archive of pasta recipes and dinner ideas!
Pasta with Creamy Crushed Walnut Sauce
Don’t overtoast your walnuts, it can make the sauce bitter. This recipe makes a lot of pasta. Cut the recipe in half if you’re feeding 3-4 people. Or use the leftovers in the stew suggested in the main post.
- 2 cups toasted walnuts
- 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 pound dried pasta (a short shape)
- Juice and zest of one lemon
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Lots of freshly ground black pepper
- To serve: fresh herbs, homemade bread crumbs, chile oil
While you’re bringing a large pot of water to a boil, crush the walnuts and garlic together in a mortar and pestle. Alternately, you can pulse with a hand blender, but leave a bit of texture & chunkiness.
Cook the pasta per package instructions in salted water. Once the pasta is in the pot, and the pasta water is nice and starchy, reserve 2 cups of the pasta water. Whisk a cup of the pasta water into the walnut mixture, adding more until your sauce is thick as heavy cream. You’ll likely need about 1 3/4 cups, maybe a splash more. Stir in half the cheese, a couple tablespoons of lemon juice, and more freshly ground black pepper than you think you’d want. Taste and add a bit more salt to the sauce if needed. If it’s all in balance, this should taste Awesome. Capital A awesome.
Transfer the cooked pasta to a large bowl and toss with the walnut sauce. Sprinkle with lemon zest and top with some fresh herbs if you have them (thyme is nice here), breadcrumbs, and a drizzle of chili oil.