This easy family dinner recipe is from an old Italian cookbook I found somewhere, I think in an old library book sale. Apparently it’s an old-time Sardinian recipe. It’s been one of our easy weeknight dinner favorites since before we had kids. It’s also a one-dish, super-easy yet super-flavorful dinner.
And funny side story – I used to make this when my brother-and-sister-in-law visited us, with their 3 young kids. One of those 3, my niece, was the ultimate picky eater (and I mean ultimate). As we were preparing this dish, with the walnuts ready to be chopped in the food processor, she walked into the kitchen and started asking questions about what’s for dinner – of course we knew that if she found out there were WALNUTS in her dinner, she would not go near it with a 10 foot pole. So we draped a kitchen towel over the food processor, and said, oh we’re having a special pasta tonight. And she was satisfied with that answer, and actually ate and loved the dish (to everyone’s total shock and surprise). And now lo and behold, she is grown up and actually is a foodie who loves to try all kinds of crazy food combinations – true story.
Family Dinner Recipe: Walnut Pasta
Preparation Time: 20 minutes.
- 1 lb. spaghetti (I like to use Barilla protein plus, in the yellow box – multigrain but doesn’t taste that way)
- 4-8oz ground walnuts (I like using 8oz but if you’re not sure if your family will eat it, you can start with 4 to make it less noticeable, yet still provide the flavor)
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 2 Tbsp. dried parsley, or even Oregano)
- 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese (or shredded asiago – again I prefer the harder cheeses so it doesn’t just clump into one ball of cheese).
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup (or more) of the pasta water
- Grind the walnuts in your food processor or blender, until they are finely ground, not quite to a paste, but quite small pieces.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet (big enough to hold your pound of spaghetti).
- Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds, then add the ground walnuts, and saute for another 30-60 seconds. You don’t want this to burn, and the walnuts can burn quickly, Just get them fragrant and toasted, and then turn off the heat.
- Once the walnuts and garlic and olive oil are cooled a bit, add the chopped parsley. This will be warm but not hot – just mix in the parsley and let it sit.
- Boil your water for pasta (add salt to the water to make it boil faster, and to flavor the pasta a bit). Once the water is boiling, add your spaghetti and boil for 7-10 minutes. You don’t want the spaghetti to be too soft, but still al dente.
- Once the pasta is done, drain it, and add it to the olive oil/garlic/walnut pan.
- Add the cup of pasta water to the pan as well.
- Stir up the pasta so that the water and garlic walnut mixture distributes evenly across the spaghetti.
- Add the parmesan cheese, and stir so that the cheese and all the rest (walnut/oil/garlic/water mixture) mix into a sauce. If you think it’s too dry, add more water – but be careful not to add too much which will make your spaghetti a ball of mush. It is meant to be slightly dry, but with the sauce clinging to the spaghetti.
- Add the parsley, and mix it in.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a simple salad. I like to simply dump a bag of romaine lettuce in a big salad bowl, and add some green or black olives, some cherry tomatoes if you have them, even some sliced pepperoncini if you like, some croutons if you have them. Then top the salad with Olive Garden dressing (you’ll likely be able to find it in your grocery’s salad dressing aisle – if not, just use whatever Italian or other dressing goes over well with your family).