Corzetti with salsa di noci

How to make Ligurian walnut sauce with marjoram

Walnut sauce is an easy recipe that you can toss together in a blender in the time it takes you to cook your pasta. There are two primary ways of going about this sauce, one made with bread soaked in milk and one without. I’ve made them both and once I even made both at the same time to compare them side by side.

The version with bread soaked in milk was far superior in texture and flavor but only before I added the pasta. Once mixed with the pasta, I preferred the more oily sauce without the bread. Both are good. But I don’t always have bread and the soaking adds one extra step. I like to make this sauce when I am in a hurry. You just toss everything in a blender and cook some pasta. I love it. The marjoram too. It’s one of my favorite herbs and I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy its savory goodness.

Walnut sauce comes from the northern Italian region of Liguria. The region is a crescent-shaped sliver of land with steep mountains and long coastlines that make up the Italian Riveria. It’s famous amongst tourists for its rugged beauty and seaside villages.

Liguria is also one of my favorite Italian food regions. While its classic basil pesto sauce is adored the world over, most of its traditional dishes are unique and unknown outside the region. From cappon magro to farinata to testaroli, there is a long list of distinctly Ligurian foods to discover.

Walnut sauce is similar to pesto. You can make it in a blender or with a mortar and pestle. It is traditionally served with a fresh stuffed pasta known as pansoti. Pansa means belly in the local dialect. I served it in the picture above with corzetti, another uniquely Ligurian pasta. Corzetti pasta is shaped in small flat rounds, like coins, and stamped with designs.

Pasta with walnut sauce

I adapted this from Emiko Davis’s recipe for Ligurian Corzetti Pasta with Walnut Sauce on Food52. Interestingly, the corzetti in her recipe is made with white wine.

Serves 4

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • A pinch of salt
  • A small handful of fresh marjoram leaves
  • 1.5 cups (150 grams) walnuts
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese plus more for serving, grated
  • 250 grams pasta, most shapes will work and dry pasta is good too, like penne or spaghetti
  1. Blend the walnuts, garlic, salt, marjoram leaves, olive oil, and parmesan in a blender until smooth and then transfer to a serving bowl. You can also do this in a mortar and pestle but start with the salt and garlic, then add the marjoram leaves, then the walnuts, and then the cheese. Stir in the olive oil at the end.
  2. Meanwhile, cook your pasta.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, add a little bit of the pasta water to the serving bowl and blend it to create a smooth sauce.
  4. Drain and add the cooked pasta to the serving bowl and stir well. Slowly add some more pasta water and continue to stir until you have a creamy sauce.
  5. Plate, top with more parmesan cheese, and serve.

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