Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Walnut Ricotta Pesto

We had some of our friends over last weekend, who happen to be vegetarian (I'm surrounded--SURROUNDED).  It was also on a Friday night, so in addition to it being vegetarian, I wanted it to be easy to prepare.  Luckily a few weeks ago I caught an episode of Lidia's Italy (I told you we watched it a lot) and she made a walnut ricotta "pesto" that seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Here are the ingredients, as adapted by, of all things, the Colorado Springs Gazette (it was one of the first to pop up in the Google search--the original recipe is in Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy).  This recipe says it serves about 4 to 6, so I went hog wild and increased the amounts by a bit because we were having 8 people:
  • 2 cups walnut halves or pieces, toasted (2.5 cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic (3 cloves)
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta, preferably fresh, drained (2 cups, or 1 lb)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I dunno, just kept pouring a little more)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated grana padano or Parmesan, plus more for passing at the table (about 1/3 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley (4? I don't know)
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt (God this is getting specific, I have no idea how much salt I used)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound fettuccine (2 lbs fresh--see note below)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
The biggest difference between Lidia's recipe and the adapted one (as well as the other adapted versions I've seen) is the use of dried vs. fresh pasta.  I love dried pasta--so convenient and tasty (and none of that whole wheat shit for me--I am curmudgeonly sticking to my unhealthy overprocessed carbs.  When I die before you, you may gloat.).  I went for fresh pasta because: (1) that's what Lidia used and apparently I am her slave; (2) this recipe has such few ingredients so the texture of the fresh pasta would play a big part; and (3) it was for guests, so why not.

I picked up 2 pounds of fresh wide fettucine--or was it tagliatelle? Anyway, it was a 1/2" thickness.  A few things about fresh pasta: (1) I haven't had good experiences with the "fresh" pasta packaged in supermarkets--I found that they have gotten too moist and I can't get rid of the raw flour taste; and (2) I like to let the pasta air dry a little before cooking because I think it helps with the texture (avoiding mushiness) and in my mind it's easier to cook out the rawness.  I could totally be wrong, but go ahead, call me an old wife telling a tale.

I shook out handfuls of the noodles to get rid of excess semolina flour, and curled them in cute little bundles.  I laid the bundles out and covered them with dry paper towels for a few hours before using.

Toast your walnuts. I put them in our toaster oven and baked at 350 degrees for, um, however much time the "Light" setting gives me. I would say about 3 minutes. Not that long. Better to have undertoasted nuts rather than burned ones.  You can also do this in a skillet over medium low heat.

After the walnuts cool completely, grind them in a food processor with the garlic.  As with the basil pesto I made, I boiled the garlic for about a minute before using so that the garlic wouldn't bite so much.

To the walnut/garlic mixture, mix in your fluffy ricotta...

...parsley, salt, pepper, and parmesan.  By the way, I needed to use a shitload more parmesan than the 1/3 cup, and had more to pass around the table.

I started to forget to take pictures. But anyway boil your pasta in salted water--I often hear that you take out the pasta when it starts floating to the top, but sometimes that still tastes too raw for me.  This time I think I overshot it a little and could have taken it out sooner, but in any case no one died although I almost cried in front of my friend for overcooking the pasta and she was very nice about it. After mixing the pasta with the walnut-ricotta mixture, mix in the butter.  I also added some of the pasta cooking water (and could have added more because this baby was thick).

I also made the tomato-braised celery. It was a potluck-style dinner, so one of my friends brought this amazing quinoa salad with cilantro, avocado, lime and all sorts of good stuff. Yummy indeed.

The dinner was to hang out with a friend who was visiting from California, and also to celebrate our birthdays.  So one of our friends brought over an AMAZING cake from Soutine, a little hole in the wall bakery near us that we really love.

Look at those pretty flowers! We also received truffles, multiple bottles of wine, and most importantly the kind of comfortable and familiar joy, affection and laughter that only friends can bring.


  1. That pasta and cake looks soooo good right now!! Thanks for posting this up I cannot wait to try it myself.

  2. Wow, everything looks so delicious!! Yum!! And happy birthday you two!!

  3. I agree -- sometimes a sauce is just screaming out for a fresh pasta.

    what a nice friend you have, supporting you in your moment of kitchen cooking-doubt.

  4. That looks delish! and how sweet of your friends to bring that cake :)

  5. Yummy! Yummy yummy. Yummmy. Mmmmmmm.