Our freezer is always stocked with one of or two loaves of my sourdough, ready to be transformed into slices of toast, a tupperware of breadcrumbs, or a pan of garlicky croutons. Recently, I read about a curious walnut-bread sauce, thick and creamy and off-white in color, spooned over pasta and served with a glass of cold Ligurian wine. I pulled out some bread from my freezer and got to work.
It all starts with a loaf of stale or defrosted country bread, torn into manageable chunks and soaked in a pot of warm milk. A pan of walnuts is lightly roasted and then crushed in a mortar and pestle. A few cloves of garlic are peeled and lightly flattened. Then, the entire aromatic mess is blitzed with an immersion blender until pureed, but still chunky. With a wooden spoon, I whipped in a few cups of grated Parmesan and half a cup of good Italian olive oil. What appeared next was one of the most voluminous, gorgeous sauces I’ve ever made. It’s rustic and pasty — who likes that wan, pale shade of beige, anyway? — but the taste is totally remarkable. There’s that faintest shade of garlic, the salty punch of cheese, those sweet, earthy walnuts, and the tang and heft of the milk-soaked bread. I used Rachel’s recipe as a guideline and inspiration more than anything else, but if you’d like to follow it exactly, you can find it here. When we were ready to eat, I thinned out the sauce with a big splash of starchy pasta water, which loosens and relaxes the sauce, perfectly coating your pasta.
Okay, a few notes about the linguine, which was so easy to make. Marcella Hazan’s basic pasta recipe has always been my favorite, and I love her preference for intuitive dough-making: the feel and look of the pasta is way more important than precisely scaling out ingredients. Hazan estimates about one cup of flour for every two eggs, and I find those proportions to be exactly right. Our dough was springy, soft, and smooth.
The rest of the dinner was light and fresh, starting wedges of Tuscan melon and smoked Charlevoix ham. Next, an easy and colorful chopped Italian salad, using mostly bitter-tasting vegetables like radicchio and dandelion greens, all brightened by red bell pepper, golden raisins, shaved fennel, and chopped almonds. It might be my new favorite winter salad.
The rest was seriously simple: a wedge of my favorite 18-month aged Comte, straight from Jura, eaten with slivers of ripe Comice pears and sourdough toasts, followed by Italian blood oranges and dark chocolate-covered candied ginger, a lovely Valentine’s gift from my mom. The night was a perfect homage to the region of Liguria, and the certainly perked up our cold winter nights!