Pasta is the ultimate weeknight meal, but if you’re like me perhaps you’re a little tired of your old spaghetti standards. Good news: today’s recipe for pasta with walnut sauce is just the thing to break you from your rigatoni rut. It blends crushed nuts with garlic, parmesan and milk-soaked bread into a lovely, textured, creamy-crunchy purée, sort of like a hearty pesto. The recipe comes from Rachel Roddy of the exquisite blog Rachel Eats, who is based in Rome and therefore an expert on all things noodle.
I discovered Rachel’s blog one day while Googling for “pasta e fagioli” and promptly fell down a rabbit hole of gorgeous writing and recipes for Italian food. Though Rachel is from London, she moved to Rome several years ago, where she now lives with her small, half-Roman son, Luca, and works as a teacher. I’m so thrilled to share her cooking tips for simple food (and equally delighted to learn we share an enthusiasm for toast).
by Rachel Roddy
Tuesday is probably the quietest night of the week for me (not that my life is ever particularly rowdy these days.) Once I have convinced my little boy that it is time to go to sleep and calmed the chaos he has caused, I want nothing more than a large glass of wine and some thing outrageously quick and minimally invasive (but tasty) to eat.
My absolute favorite standing supper is butter and anchovy (mashed together) on toast. If there is some salad ready and washed I might have a handful or a few tiny tomatoes.
I am not a particularly organised or forward thinking cook, but I almost always have a pan of cooked beans in the fridge. Once cooked I use them throughout the week: in soup, with sausages, with tuna and red onion, straight from the pan with a spoon. If have mozzarella I will do another favourite supper, a River Café idea: warm white beans with salty black olives and milky mozzarella. It is a glorious combination.
I am a real “on toast” woman at solitary suppertime: fried egg, poached egg, a tin of sardines with loads of black pepper, sliced tomato with too much salt.
Staples. Packets of pasta, pasta and pasta which I eat at lunchtime. Bread and butter. The pan of beans. Eggs and more eggs for omelet, poached, fried. Tins of anchovies, sardines and mackerel. I feel extremely happy and reassured if I have a pan of tomato sauce in the fridge waiting to be ladled out and used on pasta, or to bake eggs in. Since having a baby who is now a boy who loves making a red mess, I have really got into the ongoing/ everlasting pan of sauce habit. I try and have salad washed and ready. Wine and a lump of Parmesan are always present and often provide my supper.
As you know I am from London but live in Rome. I am a single mum of a little boy. I was an actress but I now teach theatre and music to kids, a job I love nearly as much as anchovy and butter on toast.
Salsa di Noci/ Walnut Sauce
by Rachel Roddy
Note from Ann: Rachel suggests initially crushing the walnuts by hand, either with a mortar and pestle or a ziplock bag, meat pounder and bit of elbow grease (I used the latter method). Indeed, this gives the sauce a delightful nubby texture.
80 grams (4 oz) crustless, coarse country bread
200 ml (1 cup) whole milk (plus a little extra to loosen the sauce)
150 grams (5 oz) shelled walnuts
1 clove garlic
40 grams (2 oz) grated parmesan
5-7 tablespoons light extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
In a small pan warm the milk gently until it is tepid and then remove it from the heat. Tear the bread into smallish pieces and add it to the pan. Leave to soak for 10 minutes.
In a pestle and mortar crush the walnuts. Peel the garlic and crush it with the back of a knife.
Tip the crushed walnuts, milk sodden bread and garlic into a bowl. Using an immersion/stick blender blitz everything into a thick coarse cream.
Add the olive oil and gated parmesan to the bowl and then – using a wooden spoon – beat the mixture firmly. Taste and season to taste with salt and freshly grated black pepper.
With pasta and green beans
For four people as a main course, I’d suggest 500 grams (about 1 pound) of pasta (spaghetti, tagliatelle or fettuccine) and 300 grams (about 10 0z) of fine green beans. Bring a large pan of well salted water to the boil. Add the beans and pasta to the pan and cook until the pasta is al dente. Meanwhile put roughly 3/4 of your walnut sauce in a warm bowl and thin it slightly with a little of the pasta cooking water (use a ladle to scoop some out while the pasta is cooking). Drain the pasta and beans, saving a little more of the cooking water. Mix the pasta and beans with the walnut sauce, adding a little more cooking water if you feel it need loosening even more. Divide between four warm bowls and serve with more freshly grated parmesan.
For other quick meals, Rachel also suggested the following:
—Vignarola, a Roman spring stew of fave, peas, artichokes and spring onions. It is a preparation heavy dish, but then super simple supper to cook.
—Green sauce is nice at this time of year (can be spooned onto or into so many things).
—Pasta e broccoli is a nice supper.
(Photo of Rachel and Luca courtesy of Rachel Roddy.)