Heidi Swanson's Pasta with Creamy Crushed Walnut Sauce

We asked one of our favorite cooks, Heidi Swanson, author of the wonderful new cookbook, Super Natural Simple: Whole-Food, Vegetarian Recipes for Real Life, to share a favorite recipe. When the brilliant mind behind the cult favorite food blog 101 Cookbooks describes a dish as "the best thing I’ve cooked with the least amount of effort in the past month," you listen (and then sprint to the kitchen!)

Comprised of just a few simple ingredients and a trusty mortar & pestle—a favorite dried pasta, a few cloves of garlic, walnuts, and black pepper—you can whip up this creamy walnut sauce in just a few minutes. According to Heidi, "The other ingredients—lemon zest, a bit of grated cheese, a finishing cascade of breadcrumbs and herbs are encouraged, but not essential. It's the kind of meal that checks the box when you're in the mood for creamy pasta, but no cream is needed. You get rich, nutty, walnut sauce from pounding garlic and toasted walnuts into a paste and thinning with a good amount of salted pasta water. Peak comfort food."

Heidi recommends: "short pasta here, preferably something whole grain and somewhat rustic. The pasta you see pictured is emmer reginetti. I grabbed it on a whim the first time I cooked this and it worked beautifully for this recipe. The way the ruffles catch just the right amount of creamy walnuts is a thing of beauty. That said, play around with different pastas, and experiment with shapes you love. Fusilli might be great, these cavatelli, or even little shells."

This is Heidi's recipe as published on 101 Cookbooks:

Pasta with Creamy Crushed Walnut Sauce

Don’t overtoast your walnuts, it can make the sauce bitter. This recipe makes a lot of pasta. Cut the recipe in half if you’re feeding 3-4 people. Or use the leftovers in the stew suggested in the main post.

Ingredients & Method

  • 2 cups toasted walnuts
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 pound dried pasta (a short shape)
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Lots of freshly ground black pepper
  • To serve: fresh herbs, homemade bread crumbs, chile oil
  1. While you’re bringing a large pot of water to a boil, crush the walnuts and garlic together in a mortar and pestle. Alternately, you can pulse with a hand blender, but leave a bit of texture & chunkiness.
  2. Cook the pasta per package instructions in salted water. Once the pasta is in the pot, and the pasta water is nice and starchy, reserve 2 cups of the pasta water. Whisk a cup of the pasta water into the walnut mixture, adding more until your sauce is thick as heavy cream. You’ll likely need about 1 3/4 cups, maybe a splash more. Stir in half the cheese, a couple tablespoons of lemon juice, and more freshly ground black pepper than you think you’d want. Taste and add a bit more salt to the sauce if needed. If it’s all in balance, this should taste Awesome. Capital A awesome.
  3. Transfer the cooked pasta to a large bowl and toss with the walnut sauce. Sprinkle with lemon zest and top with some fresh herbs if you have them (thyme is nice here), breadcrumbs, and a drizzle of chili oil.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Serves 8