This recipe is a simplified version on a delicious classic dish from the Liguria region of Italy, Pansoti in Walnut Sauce. Pansoti are pasta filled with herbs and bitter greens tossed in a walnut and cream sauce. I tasted it for the first time dining at a small harbor side restaurant in Vernazza, one of the charming little villages that make up the Cinque Terre. It was one of my favorite meals during our trip to Italy. In my pre-child days, I would make the fresh pasta to fully recreate the dish. But the days when I have ample time to make fresh pasta are currently very few. Thankfully, the sauce is actually really quick and easy to make, so these days I can recreate the flavors by tossing whole wheat pasta with the sauce and some wilted greens. It is still really delicious and transports me back to that wonderful experience. As long as your child can eat nuts, this is a very child-friendly meal. Baby Girl loves this dish.
I love the decadence of using whole cream in the sauce, but if you want to make it a bit lighter, milk does work, the sauce just isn't quite as rich and thick. You can throw a slice of white bread (without crusts) in the processor with the nuts to thicken the sauce if you decide to use milk instead of cream.
I have used frozen spinach in a bind when I don't have any fresh greens in the house. It's not as good but it does work. This sauce freezes well, so you could make a large batch and freeze the extra. Then on days when you're short on time, you can make a delicious meal in the time it takes the pasta to cook using frozen sauce and frozen spinach. Just thaw the spinach in the microwave, squeeze out excess liquid and toss with the pasta and sauce.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup walnut pieces
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
4 tablespoons whipping cream1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 cups (or more) fresh greens - kale, chard, spinach, mustard. . .any or all of the above
1/4 cup finely chopped basil
salt and pepper
5 cups dried whole wheat pasta
Fill a large pot with water and place over high heat.
Wash the greens well. When water is boiling season it with ample salt, and then add greens and cook until soft but still bright green, ~2-3 minutes. Remove greens from water using slotted spoon or spider. Put greens on large cutting board, gather into mound and chop into bite sized pieces.
Return water to boiling and add pasta. Cook until just done, about 7 minutes.
While pasta cooks, combine nuts, garlic and cheese in a food processor or blender. Blend while slowly pouring in oil until mixture is smooth. Pour into a large saute pan. Add cream to pan. Warm over low heat.
When pasta is almost finished cooking, scoop out 1/2 cup of pasta water and set aside. Drain pasta and add directly to sauce. (Or if the pan with the sauce is not large enough, put the pasta back into the empty pot over low heat and then add sauce.) Toss pasta with sauce until well coated. Add chopped greens, nutmeg and most of the basil. Toss until thoroughly combined. Add some reserved pasta water if mixture is thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately topped with the rest of the basil and additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.