05 October 2007


The ancient Romans believed walnuts were food for the gods, while mortals had to subsist on lesser nuts like beechnuts and chestnuts. I received a more literal reminder that fall is walnut season, in the form of a very hard walnut shell falling, ker-plunk, on my head. Rubbing my temple, another fell, plop, on the sidewalk next to me, courtesy of a squirrel perched above me, feasting on those heavenly nuts, straight from the boughs of a walnut tree.

Often considered one of the world's healthiest foods, the fresh walnuts we picked up at a local farm recently were full of a rich flavor I'd never experienced before. I shelled a bunch and tucked them into the freezer for storage, and then I found a recipe for pasta with walnut sauce that sounded delicious. It was one of those happy occasions when I had all the ingredients on hand already, and I decided to add cubes of roasted butternut squash since I wanted a nice fall vegetable to round out the dish.

Dipping my finger in the sauce to taste, I knew we had a winner on hand. Rich with nuts, cream, and spice, with a slight sweetness from the wine, it was luxuriously good. While I love the slight chewiness of the mafalda pasta we had in the cabinet, I think this would really be best with fresh pasta, either handmade or from your grocery or local pasta maker. And while it all sounds a bit fancy, with nuts and cream and such, it's really quite simple: the sauce comes together in seconds in the processor, and then all you have to do is roast the squash and cook the pasta, easy enough for a weeknight. For an extra touch, you can garnish with a sage leaf fried in a little butter.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the walnut sauce has a myriad of other uses: you can spread it on toasted bread, toss it with roasted vegetables, or even turn it into an amuse-like soup, garnished with pomegranate seeds.

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Walnut Sauce
A pasta dish just right for fall. The walnut sauce is wonderful and you'll quickly find a lot of other uses for it besides pasta. If you have truffe oil or walnut oil, they make a wonderful addition to the walnut sauce, just use a few drops along with the olive oil.

1 lb fresh pasta, like tagliatelle or fettucine
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tbl chopped fresh sage
for walnut sauce:
8 oz (about 1 cup) shelled walnuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup light cream
1/4 cup late harvest white wine (like Muscato or Riesling), optional

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Drizzle a little olive oil on a baking sheet, scatter the chopped squash, sage, and some salt and roll them around to coat. Roast the squash until browned and tender, shaking the pan a couple times during the process, about 45 minutes.
2. Make the sauce: Lightly toast the walnuts. Place in a food processor with the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper and pulse until ground. Drizzle in the olive oil, cream and wine with processor running, only until the paste is emulsified. (If you don't have wine on hand you can use broth or water.) You'll have about 2 cups sauce.
3. Cook pasta according to package directions. When pasta is done, drain and toss with roast squash and 1 1/2 cups of the walnut sauce. Serve immediately.

Walnut Soup: Thin the walnut sauce with a bit of chicken broth, be careful not to thin the soup too much of it may be watery (about 3/4 cup broth for 2 cups sauce). Serve in small demi-tasse cups garnished with pomegranate seeds as an amuse.

Roast Beets with Walnut Sauce: Roast beets until tender, then peel and dice. Toss with walnut sauce.


Kendra said...

Maybe this is a silly question, but what do you do with the other 1/2 cup of sauce (step three)

PS sounds delicious, I'm definitely making this one.

Anonymous said...

Mercedes, I made this recipe tonight (doubled it and it worked). And I added 2 cups of shredded chicken. The kicker was to use some leftover Trocken-beerenauslesen....gilded the lily there, but WOW, what flavors. The family raved, and I am in your debt for ideas.



Katherine Gray said...

Oh, my. This sounds incredible. I've also got a bag of fresh walnuts and this will be perfect (though I'll need to try it with soymilk instead of cream for my non-dairy family).

How do you prepare the walnuts for freezing?

Mercedes said...

Kendra- I know it's a bit funky, but I felt adding all the sauce was a bit too much, however, you can certainly go ahead and use all the sauce if you want, or you can reserve the half-cup for serving at the table. Or you can set it aside and use it as a dip for bread or a snack.

Coastalvicar- Oh, I'm so glad you liked it! Chicken is a great addition, and I love that you used beer- that's just perfect. Thanks for the feedback!

Hi Katherine- I think soy milk will work just fine, or if you can get some kind of non-dairy creamer, that might also work. I think this dish is easily adaptable to vegetarian/vegan preferences also. When I said prepared I just meant that I shelled the nuts before putting them in the freezer (to keep them from going rancid).

Figs, Bay, Wine said...

Ouch! Bodily injury aside, the flavor of those freshly harvested walnuts must be out of this world! What a fantastic recipe, Mercedes. I can't wait to give it a try.

Anonymous said...

Mercedes....Trokenbeerenauslese is an intensely-honey sweet, complex German dessert wine....like the French Sauternes.


Mercedes said...

Coastalvicar- oh, I do stand corrected! I was reading very quickly, and the name wasn't familiar to me, and I just saw the "beer" in the word. I enjoy sauternes and tokaji and such, so I'll have to keep an eye out for trocken-beerenauslesen. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This looks completely delicious.
THanks for writing about it.

Anonymous said...

i've tried this sauce on beets, tortellini, and brussel sprouts.