Cook the Book: Pasta with Parsley and Toasted Walnut Sauce

Cook the Book: Pasta with Parsley and Toasted Walnut Sauce

[Photograph: Caroline Russock]

At first glance this Pasta with Parsley and Toasted Walnut Sauce from Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton's Canal House Cooking looks a lot like pesto. All of the usual suspects are accounted for: green herbs, nuts, garlic, oil, and cheese, and it's made in a mortar and pestle. But after grinding up a batch, I was struck by how un-pesto-like this sauce was, more delicate and creamy than its basil counterpart, and somehow much more of a stick-to-your-ribs plate of pasta.

By grinding walnuts with walnut oil, the sauce takes on the rich smoothness of a nut butter. Unlike a traditional basil pesto, which is all about the basil and garlic, this sauce lets the walnuts really come through both in flavor and texture. One word of advice when it comes to the seasoning of this recipe: don't be shy with the salt. Even though a quarter cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano is incorporated into the sauce, that extra (large) pinch of salt is necessary to bring out the beautiful walnut flavors.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Canal House Cooking to give away this week.

  • Yield:4 to 6


  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • salt
  • 2 cups packed fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 3/4 cup mild walnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound spaghetti


  1. 1.

    For the sauce: Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic, walnuts, and a large pinch of salt together. Add the parsley a handful at a time and continue crushing and grinding with the pestle to make a fine paste. Add the cheese, crushing it into the paste. Drizzle in the oil in a thin, steady stream, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Season the sauce with salt. This makes about 1 cup sauce.

  2. 2.

    To make the sauce in a blender (or food processor): Grind the garlic, walnuts, a large pinch of salt, parsley, and 1/2 cup of the oil in the blender until smooth. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and stir in the cheese and the remaining oil.
    Season the sauce with salt.

  3. 3.

    Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water over medium-high heat until just cooked through, about 12 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Toss the pasta in a large bowl with the sauce, loosening the sauce with some of the reserved cooking water. Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, if you like.