Years ago my husband and I vacationed in Italy, visiting Lake Como, Venice, Verona, the Dolomites, Varenna, Cinque Terre, Florence, Umbria, Siena, and Rome, plus delightful villages in between. One day we had lunch in the beautiful and historically fascinating city of Siena. I remember it like it was yesterday – not only the city but also my lunch.
We had walked away from the touristy part of town, and discovered a restaurant-filled alley. We checked out posted menus, and finally just picked one eeny-meeny-miney-mo style. Honestly all of the restaurants had fabulous menus.
I ordered gnocchi with a walnut cream sauce, which could definitely be my last meal on earth if I had a choice in the matter. The gnocchi were bite-sized pillows – just what you’d expect in Tuscany. But the walnut cream sauce was heavenly.
I 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 left one gnocchi just to not feel piggy! But seriously, look at that serving?!
Once home, I pondered the different ways you can make a walnut cream sauce. It really depends how thick or thin you want it; one of my options was to make a walnut bechamel, but I chose to make a somewhat thinner sauce.
To keep it simple, I used gnocchi from the store. This is a fabulous product.
So here is my recipe for gnocchi in a simple walnut cream sauce, subtly infused with garlic. The prepared gnocchi can be served tossed in the sauce, with grated Parmesan passed around, or baked with the sauce and cheese first. Your choice!
Walnut Cream Sauce for Gnocchi
serves 2 or 4
6 ounces walnuts
12 ounces heavy cream or 1/2 & 1/2
4 ounces unsalted butter or olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
16 ounces gnocchi
Toast the walnuts in a heavy skillet just until lightly browned. Let cool. I try to avoid the nut dust after toasting them.
Combine the walnuts and the cream in the blender jar. Process until smooth. You can see how thick the walnut cream becomes.
Turn on the oven to 400 degrees F if you’re going to bake the gnocchi. See * below. Prepare the gnocchi according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the butter over low heat. Add the garlic and gently warm it in the butter for a few minutes. Add the walnut cream to the garlic butter and whisk until combined.
* Fold in the prepared gnocchi gently, making sure they are all coated with the cream. Add the salt and taste. Once heated through, place them in a serving dish.
At this point the gnocchi can be enjoyed as is, with grated Parmesan passed around. This is how I had it in Siena.
For the baked version, pour the walnut-cream covered gnocchi into a buttered baking dish, and generously top with Parmesan.
Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until there’s some bubbling and browning. The baking dish could alternatively be placed under the broiler for a few minutes prior to serving.
I have to add that this isn’t the prettiest sauce in the world. The walnuts make the cream a bit off in color, but it’s so good I’m not sure anyone would care.
I also think some panko bread crumbs could be used on top for a little crunch, but next time…
Since creating this recipe, I’ve repeated it for company using 3 pounds of gnocchi, and for the sauce used 16 ounces of walnuts and 1 quart (32 ounces) of cream. It worked out perfectly, so I don’t think the nut-to-cream ratio is that critical.
This recipe is so good, and I’m stating that even though I “created“ it. Duplicating delicious meals, especially from traveling, is always fun.
Both versions, the baked and non-baked are fabulous. If you want to taste most closely what I had in Siena, don’t bake the gnocchi!