Years ago my husband and I took a wonderful three week trip throughout Italy, mostly the northern parts. One day we had lunch in the beautiful city of Siena. I remember it like it was yesterday – not only the city but also the lunch.
We had walked away from the more touristy part of town, off the beaten path, so to speak, and found ourselves in a wonderful, alley-filled area full of restaurants. We checked out posted menus, and finally just picked one at which to have our lunch. Honestly all of the restaurants had fabulous menus.
I ordered gnocchi with a walnut cream sauce. And, it could definitely be my last meal on earth, if I had a choice in the matter. Of course, being Tuscany, the gnocchi were sinfully delicious. But the walnut cream sauce was heavenly. I actually took before and after photos of my lunch, and fortunately, have never deleted them from my computer. They’ve been a constant reminder to try and duplicate the sauce. And yes, I ate the whole thing.
Just for fun, here is a shot of the Tuscany countryside, looking just like it does in movies! I love Italy.
There are so many different ways you can make a walnut cream sauce. For one thing, it depends how thick or thin you want it. The sauce I prepared is very thick, because the cooler weather made me crave something hearty. But you could simply steep some ground walnuts in milk or half and half. What I had in Italy was somewhere in between the two extremes.
So here is my simple recipe for gnocchi with a walnut cream sauce. Being that I was about to leave town when I made this dish, I decided to use some frozen sweet potato gnocchi that I’d purchased last fall from Marxfoods.com. They were still in good shape, and delicious.
I made them last year for the blog, simply cooked and tossed with browned butter and sage leaves. They really are a fabulous product.
Walnut Cream Sauce for Gnocchi
4 ounces walnuts
8 ounces heavy cream
2 ounces unsalted butter or olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
Parmesan, to taste
Then combine the walnuts and the cream in the blender jar. Process a little.
At this point you could probably steep the cream-walnut mixture on the stove for a bit, then strain it and toss it with gnocchi. But I decided to just go for it. I processed the mixture for about one minute. It was thick.
Set aside the blender jar.
In a large skillet or wok, heat the butter over low heat. Add the garlic and warm it in the butter for a few minutes.
Then I added about half of the amount of sauce that I made, directly from the blender. The amount of sauce I made could easily coat enough pasta or gnocchi for 8 people, but half of the amount was perfect for two hearty eaters.
Stir well until combined.
Then gently fold in the prepared gnocchi, or really, any kind of cooked pasta. I wouldn’t cook the paste al dente, because this sauce isn’t thin enough to be absorbed.
Top generously with finely grated Parmesan.
I have to add that this isn’t the prettiest sauce in the world. The walnuts make the sauce a bit off in color, but it’s so good I’m not sure anyone would really care. I used up the rest of the sauce by sautéing mushrooms, adding them to the walnut cream sauce, adding some dried thyme and black pepper, and served the resulting sauce over steak. It was also delicious!