Walnut sauce is a delicious condiment for a simple yet elegant pasta dish. This walnut pasta sauce is made with cream and has a very delicate flavour and the perfect texture to coat your favourite pasta shape. This creamy pasta is that kind of midweek meal that can double as fantastic main course option when entertaining!
Any time I want to impress my guests or just treat myself to a good meal I’ll pull a recipe from the Italian tradition. More than often, Italian recipes are easier to make than it may seem. Walnut sauce pasta may look like the fanciest pasta dish ever. But in fact this pasta dish is actually pretty easy and only requires a bunch of ingredients.
Furthermore, pasta with walnut sauce takes as little as 30 minutes to make. The sauce comes together as the pasta cooks. So you can bring to your table a portion of this delightful pasta dish in less than a half hour. This pasta recipe is perfect on any midweek night. Nobody wants to spend more than 30 minutes making dinner. Call me biased but a plate of pasta will always be a fantastic meal option to me. Yes, I’m Italian.
What is walnut sauce
Walnut sauce is a pasta condiment from Liguria, northern Italy. Liguria is the region that gave us basil pesto, focaccia and farinata. Beautifully nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean sea, Liguria is home to the Italian Riviera. Apart from the breathtaking landscape of mountain and sea, Liguria also boasts some of Italy’s finest olives and olive oils.
Walnut sauce is a recipe from the Ligurian tradition. The traditional recipe calls for crushing the walnuts with garlic, parmesan and bread soaked in milk. The concept is very similar to that of pesto, and the sauce can either be made with pestle and mortar (the traditional way) or in a food processor.
My creamy walnut sauce is a variation inspired by the traditional Ligurian recipe, but adapted to suit my preference. Instead of using bread soaked in milk I get the texture from cream. I also prefer to sub raw garlic with sautéed shallots for a more delicate flavour. Parmesan is only added at the end, once the sauce is mixed with pasta.
This is what you will need to make creamy walnut sauce pasta:
- Your pasta of choice – I tend to prefer short pasta shapes with this sauce.
- Walnuts – they need to be shelled and preferably peeled – more on this below.
- Shallot – sautéed onion is the foundation of 90% pasta sauces!
- Butter – since we’re going full-creamy we’re using butter to sauté the onion.
- Cream – any cooking cream of choice, I prefer one that has a 15% fat content.
- Salt & pepper – to taste
- Grated parmesan – it’s always a great finish.
For a detailed description of the method please refer to the recipe card below.
While this recipe can take as little as 30 minutes, I like to add one extra step to turn this simple pasta dish into restaurant food material. It’s a preliminary step that you can choose to omit. But if you have some extra prep time, for the best flavour and texture you should consider peeling the walnuts.
Peeling the walnuts will require a little bit of work, so budget in about one hour of extra time if you choose to proceed. This preliminary step can be done in advance. Store your peeled walnuts in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Why peel the walnuts
Walnut skins are slightly bitter, and by taking the skins away your walnut sauce will be more delicate in flavour. Furthermore peeling the walnuts will give you a smoother sauce. I’m all for a rustic feel, but sometimes you want that little fancier note. Traditional Ligurian walnut sauce calls for unpeeled walnuts. But this creamy walnut sauce is meant to be more delicate, so I think peeling the walnuts is really worth the effort.
What if I don’t peel the walnuts? No big deal! Walnuts are generally eaten with skins on, so most people are used to the slightly bitter taste they have. Walnut sauce with unpeeled walnuts is still a delicious pasta sauce. Peeled walnuts yield a smooth creamy sauce. If you don’t peel the walnuts your sauce will have a light speckle caused by the walnut skin bits.
How to do it
The easiest way to peel the walnuts is by quickly simmering them in boiling water. Add the walnuts to a small pot of boiling water and simmer for a couple of minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water to cool and place on a kitchen towel.
Remove the skins by gently pulling them with your fingers. I find it easier by breaking the walnuts in pieces. That’s not an issue in this recipe, as we will be blending them later anyway. Wet skins are easiest to remove. Don’t let the walnuts dry completely, or the skins will be harder to remove. If it happens, simmer for a couple of minutes again, drain and continue from where you had left.
Tips for the best pasta with walnut sauce
- Cook the pasta al dente. For an authentic Italian flair you want to cook your pasta following the suggested cooking time on the package.
- Toss the pasta with the sauce making sure all the pasta gets nicely coated in the sauce. I do not recommend just topping your cooked pasta with this sauce. Mix it well for maximum flavour.
- Top your walnut pasta with a sprinkle of grated parmesan, freshly cracked black pepper or even chopped walnuts. For decoration I have topped mine with 2 fresh sage leaves.
- I prefer short pasta shapes for this walnut sauce, like fusilli/eliche or even mezze maniche. If you like long pasta I would recommend tagliatelle. Even better if homemade, you can use my fresh egg pasta recipe.
Did you ever have walnut sauce with pasta? If you try my recipe let me know in the comments, I would love to hear from you! If you’re planning on making this recipe later, don’t forget to pin it:
Originally published November 2017, last updated January 2021.
Creamy walnut sauce pasta
- Food processor (or hand blender)
- 2 pots
- Cutting board and knife
- 500 g pasta of choice
- 60 g walnuts peeled for best results
- 1 shallot
- 240 ml cream
- 20 g butter
- 1/3 tsp salt
- pepper to taste
- 4 tbsp parmesan grated
- To peel the walnuts. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. When the water boils, add the walnuts and simmer for a couple of minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water and place on a kitchen towel. Remove the skins by gently pulling them with your fingers. This procedure adds about one extra hour to the recipe and can be done in advance. If doing this in advance, store the peeled walnuts in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Prepare the pasta. Set a pot of water on medium-high heat. When it boils, add salt and the pasta. Cook the pasta in boiling water according to package instructions. I recommend to stick to the suggested cooking time for a perfect Italian al dente texture.
- Prepare the sauce. Melt half of the butter in a pan on medium heat. Mince the shallot and add it to the butter. Sauté until soft, 2 minutes.
- Add the walnuts, salt, pepper and the rest of the butter. Sauté 1 minute, let the butter melt. Next pour in the cream. Simmer the sauce on medium heat 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Transfer the sauce to a food processor and blend until smooth. Alternatively, you can blend it with a hand blender.
- When the pasta is done cooking, drain it and put it back into the cooking pan. Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta and toss. Divide pasta between serving bowls and top with grated parmesan.