Pasta with Creamy Crushed Walnut Sauce
Toasted walnuts pounded with garlic into a creamy sauce make this pasta easy and exceptional. If you have dried pasta, a few cloves of garlic, walnuts, and black pepper you can make this. The other ingredients - lemon zest, a bit of grated cheese, a finishing cascade of breadcrumbs and herbs are encouraged, but not essential.
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.
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Really good. Really fast. Really easy. Very adaptable. 100/100.
We love this sauce. Thank you! Can the leftover sauce be frozen?
Loved this recipe. I’m in Los Angeles and I made it simultaneously with friends in San Francisco - it was a virtual get-together for cooking during the pandemic. Then we sat down to eat it together (also virtually) and we all loved it. One slight mystery: the recipe calls for stirring “half the cheese” into the mixture, but it never says what to do with the other half. We presumed it gets sprinkled over the top before serving. In any case, thanks for the wonderful recipe.
This looks amazing! Could you clarify how finely to grind the nuts? Should it be sand-like, completely a paste, or still very chunky like pea-sizes pieces? I want to make sure I grind it enough so that the creamy sauce forms, but not sure when to stop!
Hi Jess - definitely more on the sandy side of things and a bit paste-like...but it's definitely a personal preference as well. So if you make it once, and want more nutty chunks the next time, you might pull half the nuts pat way through pounding, and add them back at the end.
Is there a brand of chili oil you prefer? Or is it something you make, like the garlic chile oil in this recipe (https://www.101cookbooks.com/chickpea-rice-soup/)?
That's perfect! I usually just whip it up myself and keep it refrigerated.
This is delicious! I used a box of shells from a Trader Joes macaroni and cheese box and they were the perfect shape (and all I had). Broccoli would have been fabulous, as you mentioned. Thanks for the recipe and always excellent inspiration.
The recipe looks great!! I plan to try it this weekend. I'm sharing this to my colleagues. :)
Having grown up in El Quito Park on the outskirts of Saratoga, we had three large English walnut trees in the front yard which kept all seven of us in nuts, and then some. This recipe was inspirational and so simple...sometimes that is incentive enuf. :-) I did get experimental and toasted hazelnuts, cashews and walnuts gently, then added my own roasted pumpkin & sunflower seeds seasoned with tamari and herbs, all whirled to a very coarse sand-like texture. Then I blended both Pecorino Romano and Parmagiano Reggiano in the food processor with fresh parsley. The pasta of choice this time was rotelle which was cooked al dente. OH YUM!!! Thanx for the inspiration!
This was so easy and amazing! We had leftover spaghetti squash that we mixed in to make it a one bowl meal.
This was delicious! I didn't have fresh bread crumbs and so made my own by sauteeing panko crumbs with some minced garlic, olive oil, salt, & pepper. Used that as a topping and it was yummy! And so easy. Will make the next time we are able to have some guests over. Would be good w/ a simple arugula salad on the side.
I have to admit that my palate has been dulled by spicy and highly-flavored food over the last few decades but I found this a little bland. I may not have used enough lemon - I used a meyer lemon and went pretty easy with the amount, because I don't really like lemon when it's too sharp. I did add the asparagus, which was very nice. I've played around a little with it, and some smoked paprika gave it a little more depth, as did white pepper, with it's more citric flavor. I looked around on the web and the suggestion of using a spinach pasta seemed like a good idea. For me, the water-based sauce just was too thin. I'm going to try some half and halkf or cream. But I loved the walnuts ! Great idea
K! If you make it again, before you go the cream route, perhaps use a bit less water, and bump up the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Even a bit more Parmesan...xx!
Thank you for helping me decide what I'm going to eat for dinner tonight! I can't wait!