Salsa di noci, or walnut sauce for pasta (Italy)

Italy is a large country in Southern Europe, well-known for its history, culture (especially opera and classical painters), architecture, cuisine and fashion. The criminal organization Mafia is also very infamous and still holds significant power in many areas, though overall crime rates in the country are low. Besides the Mafia the Catholic church is also a major economic power. Regional differences are big and Italy as an unified country has only existed since 1861. Many small Romance languages are spoken in Italy. It also houses two tiny enclave countries: the Vatican (entirely located inside the city of Rome) and San Marino.

Italy is a very popular tourist destination, both for people living in nearby countries and internationally. Besides Rome many other large cities are common holiday destinations, such as Turin, Naples, Milan, Florence, Verona and Venice, as well as many rural areas. (Italy probably has more famous cities than any other country of its size.) Bologna should also be mentioned, as it has the oldest university in the world, founded in 1088.

Besides pizza, risotto and the usual tomato-based pasta dishes the Italian cuisine features numerous lesser-known dishes and there are big regional differences. Many kinds of cheeses, fresh herbs (not just basil) and high quality olive oil are very important. Truffles and porcini mushrooms are highly valued. Many people don’t realize is how commonly beans are eaten in many parts of Italy, e.g. with pasta and in soups (Italian restaurants elsewhere tend to serve the richer and fancier dishes instead of “pheasant food”). The most famous desserts must be tiramisú, made with mascarpone cheese, lady fingers and espresso (quite possible to veganize, too) and gelato (Italian ice cream), but there are also mousses, tarts and fruit desserts.

It was, of course, very difficult to choose an Italian dish to feature, but I knew it had to be from one of my favorite (and most underrated!) vegan cookbooks, Bryanna Clark Grogan’s Nonna’s Italian Kitchen. The book also has the absolute best ever vegan ice cream recipe which you don’t need an ice cream maker for – my Italian friend polished off the raspberry gelato almost supernaturally quickly!)

I have made quite a few walnut recipes for Vegventures, mostly from Balkan, Middle East and Caucasia, but I wanted to make something most people wouldn’t be familiar with. Besides, my Italian friend, who lives in Bologna, really likes pasta with walnut sauce. This recipe is a Ligurian specialty. It has a rather complex earthy flavour, much more than just walnut. Nuts and herbs are typical of Ligurian cuisine and pesto also originates from this region.

Salsa di noci

Salsa di noci

3/4 cup/1.8 dl chopped walnuts
2 cups/4.8 dl soymilk
1 chicken style broth cube (or enough broth powder for 1 cup broth)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1-2 tsp chopped fresh marjoram or 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
soy parmesan or almesan
salt to taste (no pepper)

Toast the walnuts on a dry pan on medium-low heat constantly stirring until they just begin to change color and smell toasted. Remove from the pan. Grind the nuts with a blender, food processor or spice mill until fairly finely ground (but not powdered).

Combine the nuts, the soymilk, the broth cube/powder and garlic in a saucepan or frying pan and bring to boil. Keep at low boil until it has thickened to sauce consistency. Remove from the heat and add the spices and the “parmesan”.

Serve hot with flat pasta like fettuccine or tagliatelle. Makes 3-4 portions.

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