Walnuts are believed to be indigenous to Persia, but the Romans cultivated them and brought them to Europe, where they were highly revered. This recipe, like most ‘Salsa di Noci’ recipes hails from Liguria, the region in northwestern Italy. High above the Mediterranean, shielded by mountains, Liguria is a fertile region,famous for its basil pesto and focaccia bread. The thick, creamy walnut sauce is often associated with the region’s most famous city, Genoa, and the herb-laden hills to its north. This recipe has become an elusive classic for its rich simplicity and limited presence on menus, but never under appreciated when served.I presented my friend Fabio with a bowl of home made beetroot Gnocchi served with butter and parmesan.My friend´s ingenuity shone as always and what he said was "I am missing the truly Italian walnut sauce."I took his comment on board and now serve my beetroot Gnocchi with the sauce as a part of our tasting menu.
This recipe for Salsa di Noci is an absolute winner and is often called Pesto di Noci (Walnut
Pesto), but the recipe calls for Greek yoghurt and Ricotta and is therefore not like pesto at all.
Therefore, you can always try this without the yoghurt, as it is often
prepared in Liguria, or for a slightly different taste, you can
substitute some of the yoghurt for mascarpone.
If you want to go non-dairy, add more olive oil when mixing the
walnuts, and be sure to reserve the cooking water, as described below.
Either way, I think this is one sauce that requires experimentation in
order to find the best match to suit your particular palate.
In Italy, this sauce is
often served with trennette (which is essentially linguine in Liguria)
or with ravioli filled with greens such as kale, called ‘Pansotti’.
Authentic Italian Walnut Sauce
3/4 cup walnut pieces
1 cup cubes day-old rustic bread
1 garlic clove
3/4 tsp Coarse sea salt
1 pinch Fresh-ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
crisp fried sage leaves for garnish
Boil half of the nuts in a medium saucepan of water for 7
minutes. Meanwhile, put bread in a bowl, cover with tepid tap water and
let stand for 5 minutes, then drain and squeeze out excess water.
Drain blanched nuts. Remove any loose skins with a paper towel.
Place garlic in bowl of food processor and process until minced.
Add all nuts (blanched and unpeeled), bread, salt and pepper and process
until mixture is smooth. Drizzle in olive oil until mixture begins to
look like pesto. Add ricotta and yogurt and process until mixture is
thick and smooth. Set aside until ready to use. You can also freeze it for future meals.Cook the gnocchi according to the above recipe.If cooking from frozen make sure the water is on a steady boil dividing the gnocchi between two pans and allow a slightly longer cooking time,Heat the walnut sauce and pour a little into the base of each bowl. Sit six or more gnocchi on top of the sauce and dust with a sprinkling of parmesan and crispy sage leaves.