Make this Creamy Walnut Sauce for Pasta in minutes! Just toast walnuts on the stove and blend them with mascarpone and a handful of ingredients. This delicious recipe is based on a dish we ate near Genoa.
In 1982, my family and I ate the most heavenly pasta with creamy walnut sauce while on the Italian Riviera, in the region of Liguria. It was the same trip where we first tried pesto.
Ever since, Mom's Pesto with Pecorino Romano became legendary in my family, but it took many years for me to try to replicate the delicious noci sauce we remembered.
This Creamy Walnut Sauce for Pasta I'm sharing today is my version, inspired by my memories, as well as a cookbook I found back in 2016.
The book was Nonna's House, Cooking and Reminiscing with the Italian Grandmothers of Enoteca Maria, (affiliate link). It included a recipe for a sauce with mascarpone and walnuts, and I made several changes.
You're going to love this mascarpone pasta!
Walnut sauce ingredients
Mascarpone is Italian cream cheese. It's ultra creamy and rich, with up to 75% butterfat, which is more than double the amount in American cream cheese.
It's the luscious ingredient in my traditional tiramisu recipe and makes this walnut sauce creamy, decadent and delicious.
Taking a note from Mom's pesto, I decided to go with a 50-50 combination of Pecorino Romano and Parmesan cheeses. The flavor is out of this world!
And, of course, I had to add garlic! Just one clove is enough, though. If you add more, it'll overpower the sauce.
How to make it
This might be the easiest sauce ever! There's barely any "cooking" involved. See the recipe card at the end of this post for full instructions, but here's an overview.
You just need to toast the walnuts in a pan on the stove for a few minutes. This will make them (and the walnut sauce) more flavorful. (Toasted walnuts also are great on salads like Grilled Romaine!)
How to toast walnuts on the stove
- Add shelled walnuts to an ungreased 10-inch pan and place over medium-high heat.
- Stirring occasionally, heat the walnuts for 3-4 minutes, just until fragrant. Don't let them burn.
- Immediately remove the pan from the heated burner to cool off on another burner.
Blend the ingredients
Then, just toss all the sauce ingredients into the food processor and blend! You'll end up with a creamy paste -- essentially a blonde walnut pesto.
For the pasta
You can use long pasta like linguine or fettucine, medium pasta such as rigatoni, or even ravioli.
Save some of the starchy cooking water to add to the pasta once the walnut sauce is mixed in. This, along with a bit of butter, will produce a nice consistency for the final dish.
No dryness allowed!
Oh, my goodness. Delizioso!
I hope you give this dish a try.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, you can use American cream cheese in this recipe, but the walnut sauce will turn out less decadent. Mascarpone gives it a "wow" factor.
This recipe makes enough for one pound of pasta. If you have extra walnut sauce, store it in a container in the refrigerator and use it within four days. (Make sure the date on the mascarpone has not expired.)
Once the walnut sauce has been mixed with pasta, it's best to serve it immediately, because leftovers will dry out. It helps to add some reserved cooking water to the leftover pasta before storing it in the refrigerator. Use it within four days, adding some olive oil or butter before warming it up.
This sauce would be delicious over spaghetti squash or zoodles. And, I bet it would work well with chicken. If you try it, let me know!
More recipes to love
- Spinach-Walnut Pesto
- Fettuccine Alfredo
- Pumpkin Alfredo
- Noodles with Peanut-Sunflower Sauce
- Stovetop Mac and Cheese
- Pasta alla Vodka
Enjoy! If you try this recipe, please leave a comment and rating!
Creamy Walnut Sauce for Pasta
Creamy Walnut Sauce
- 1 cup shelled walnuts
- ½ cup mascarpone cheese
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 6-8 fresh basil leaves (rinsed & patted dry)
- 1 peeled garlic clove (medium or large)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound linguine (or fettucine, spaghetti, rigatoni, ravioli)
- salted water to cook the pasta
- 1 cup reserved water from pasta pot
- 2 tablespoons salted butter
for Serving (optional)
- extra Parmesan cheese
- red pepper flakes
- Toast the shelled walnuts in a 10-inch pan on the stove for 3-4 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. The walnuts are ready when they are fragrant. Don't let them burn. Set the pan aside on a cool spot on the stove.
- Grate the Parmesan and Romano cheeses, if needed. (I use my blender.)
- Place a pasta pot filled ⅔ high with hot water on the stove over high heat. Add about a couple teaspoons of salt to the water and cover the pot.
- While the water is heating, prepare the walnut sauce. Place the toasted walnuts, mascarpone, olive oil, Parmesan, Romano, garlic, basil, salt and pepper into your food processor or blender. Process until the sauce becomes a smooth paste, scraping down the sides as needed.
- When the water is boiling, add the pasta and stir it in. Lower the heat a bit and continue cooking it until it's al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking, scoop out a cup of the pasta water (I use my standard ladle and take two scoops) and place it in a pasta bowl near the stove.
- Drain the pasta when it's cooked, setting it in a colander in the sink. Add two tablespoons of butter to the pot, then stir in the drained pasta, so it doesn't stick.
- Add all of the walnut sauce to the pot, along with ½ cup of the reserved pasta water. Stir to combine with the pasta and add extra reserved water as needed, so the pasta is not dry.
- Serve immediately with red pepper flakes and extra Parmesan. If you have any leftovers, stir in any remaining, reserved pasta water to the leftovers and store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to four days.
- The leftover pasta will be dry, so you will need to add some butter or olive oil when reheating it.
- You can use American cream cheese in place of mascarpone, but the walnut sauce will be less decadent. Mascarpone gives it a "wow" factor.
- One clove of garlic is plenty here. Using more overpowers the sauce, since the garlic is raw.
- It's best to enjoy this dish immediately, since the leftovers will become dry. If you know you'll only need half a pound of pasta, use half of the sauce and store the leftover sauce in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to four days (make sure the date on the mascarpone has not expired). Then, you can cook fresh pasta to go with it the next time, adding butter and some reserved pasta water.
(Recipe Source: Inspired by a dish we ate in Liguria and by a recipe from Christina Narisi Carrozza in the cookbook Nonna's House, Cooking and Reminiscing with the Italian Grandmothers of Enoteca Maria, affiliate link.
Originally published on December 13, 2016 and updated now with additional photos and text.)