Folks, it’s Thursday again and—as the saying goes, giovedi’ gnocchi!—it’s gnocchi day! Last week we had gnocchi with pesto sauce. This week it’s gnocchi with another, somewhat less known raw sauce from Liguria: salsa di noci or gnocchi in walnut sauce. Looks-wise, this dish is not particularly spectacular—it’s rather pale and wan, in fact—but the taste is really something special.
There are any number of different recipes for walnut sauce, but they all include walnuts, a bit of garlic and olive oil ground up like pesto in a mortar and pestle or, in a more modern vein, in a food processor or blender. Many recipes add bread and cream or milk to ‘fill out’ the sauce , as well as a bit of parsley for color. Some, and I suspect the most genuini, add marjoram and pinoli nuts. Here’s the version we tried tonight:
- One batch of gnocchi, preferably homemade
For the walnut sauce:
- 200g (7 oz) walnuts
- 1 clove of garlic
- A handful of parsley
- Salt and pepper
- One slice of bread (or a dinner roll), crusts removed, soaked in milk and squeezed dry
- 100g (3-1/2 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon of Greek yogurt (optional)
- A good glug of olive oil
- Milk, cream or half-and-half, q.b.
Put the walnuts, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper in a food processor. Process until you have a rough paste. Then add the bread olive oil, grated parmesan cheese and (if you have some on hand) a tablespoon of Greek yogurt. Start processing and, as the you process, add the milk, cream or ‘half-and-half’ through the funnel until the mixture forms a fairly smooth sauce. As in the case of pesto, however, you do not want a baby-food-like puree, so don’t over-process.
Take your gnocchi (using this recipe for homemade potato gnocchi or just use store-bought) and boil them in well salted water until they come to the surface of the water. Transfer them from the water with a slotted spoon into a large bowl, add a generous dollop of the walnut sauce, some more grated cheese and, if you like–although some sources call it heresy—a nut of butter. Mix gently with a spatula, adding a bit of the pasta water to thin out the sauce if need be. Serve immediately with additional grated cheese for those who want it.
Many recipes call for blanching the walnuts and removing their semi-bitter skins. I rather like the slightly bitter taste and understand from my research that it is more authentic not to do so. So I don’t. But if you are put off by the taste, by all means, you can add this extra step.
The use of a bit of Greek yogurt may seem, at first blush, rather odd. But the real salsa di noci is made with something called prescinsôea, a kind of fresh cheese which is more or less impossible to find outside Liguria. It has a slightly sour taste, which Greek yogurt, with a bit of parmesan cheese, is meant to approximate. (Any genovesi out there can tell us if this really works…!)
The most typical use of salsa di noci is to dress pansoti, or ‘pot bellies’, a kind of triangular Ligurian ravioli stuffed with cheese or cheese and an mixture of greens and herbs known as preboggion. But that’s material for another post. I find that walnut sauce works very well, especially in the summer, with potato gnocchi. Try it and see if you like it…