A Simple Walnut Sauce for Pasta and Gnocchi (Salsa di noci)

Walnut sauce (salsa di noci) on tortellini
Walnut sauce (salsa di noci) on tortellini. Lois Slokoski/Getty Images
  • 15 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins,
  • Cook: 5 mins
  • Yield: 1 cup of sauce (serves 2-4)
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This super quick-and-easy, no-cook sauce, hailing from northwestern Italy's coastal Liguria region, is great on gnocchi or any short, fresh pasta such as trofie or corzetti. Delicate and subtle, it's also ideal for filled pastas such as ravioli or tortellini, as it's delicate enough to not overpower the flavor of the filling.

In fact, allegedly it originated as a sauce for Genovese-style pansotti, a triangular Ligurian pasta stuffed with a filling of ricotta and chard, spinach and wild herbs such as borage.

It's good on long, thin pasta as well, such as spaghetti or thick, chewy pici.

You can also serve this as a simple antipasto or appetizer, spread on slices of crusty bread or on crostini (small toasted slices of bread). 

Sometimes this sauce is made with half walnuts and half pine nuts, with the addition of a splash of white wine, or with cream, but I prefer this simpler, lighter version, made with just walnuts, garlic, and milk. 

It would pair well with a white Ligurian wine such as a Pigato or Vermentino, or a Prosecco when served as an antipasto.

What You'll Need

  • 2 slices of soft white bread (about 30 grams), crusts removed and torn into pieces
  • 1/4-1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup (4.4 ounces/125 grams) shelled walnuts
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram leaves (optional)
  • Optional toppings for serving: fresh marjoram leaves, minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, toasted chopped walnuts, additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

How to Make It

Soak the crustless bread pieces in 1/4 cup of milk until softened, about 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, puree the nuts, garlic, Parmigiano, oil, salt, nutmeg, and marjoram (if using) together in a food processor or blender, or with a handheld immersion blender, to form a smooth paste. (If you want to do it old-school, use a mortar and pestle to grind the garlic, nuts, salt, nutmeg, and cheese together to a smooth paste before transferring to a separate bowl to stir in the olive oil.) 

Add the softened bread to the pureed nut mixture and puree again until smooth and even. Add additional milk, a little bit at a time, as needed to adjust the consistency. It should be about the same thickness as a basil pesto sauce if using on pasta, a bit thinner if using as a spread.

When serving on pasta, be sure to retain some of the pasta cooking water to thin the sauce when tossing it together with the pasta before serving. 

The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, or frozen for several weeks.