On a recent episode of Radio Cherry Bombe, host Jane Larkworthy asked Colu Henry to pick her five favorite recipes in her cookbook Back Pocket Pasta. Two of the recipes she named, Smoky Pasta alla Vodka and Fusilli Alfredo are favorites of mine as well, and of the five, I had made all but one, which happens to be Jane’s favorite: Penne with Radicchio, Gorgonzola, and Walnuts. What’s for dinner? Solved.
I pulled out my copy of BBP to read the recipe, which sounded perfect for this time of year, with fresh orange and parsley brightening a classic Northern Italian combination. I made the pasta that evening, and like all of the BPP recipes I’ve made, it came together incredibly quickly.
While the water came to a boil, I toasted the walnuts, chopped the radicchio, and minced the parsley (the entirety of the recipe’s mise en place). While the pasta cooked, I made the sauce, which amounted to sautéing radicchio and melting gorgonzola with a healthy splash of the well-seasoned pasta cooking water. In less than 10 minutes, the cooked pasta had entered the pan, too, the silky sauce enveloping it along with the walnuts, parsley, and orange zest. Lots of fresh cracked pepper and shavings of Pecorino at the table completed the dish.
This pasta is at once wintry and fresh, bitter and sweet, vegetable-rich and filling. I’ve made it several times now, replacing the radicchio, as Colu suggests, with Treviso (see notes below), but I imagine any member of the chicory family would work well here.
A Few Notes
Radicchio: There are several varieties of radicchio, the most common being the Chiogga variety, which is round, resembling a small cabbage in shape. Another variety, Treviso, looks like Belgian endive in shape but shares radicchio’s coloring. It’s less bitter than the more common round varieties of radicchio, and though it can be hard to find, now is the time of year (early winter) when it appears at farmer’s markets and specialty shops. As noted above, other members of the chicory family substitute for the radicchio, including escarole and endive.
Use a large pot, and be sure to save a lot of the cooking liquid. If you time the assembly of the dish as the recipe suggests, you’ll scoop the water directly from the pot of boiling pasta itself; if you don’t, you may need to drain the pot of pasta, and if you do, save 1 to 2 cups of the cooking liquid—the sauce relies on 1/2 to 1 cup of it, but it’s nice to have on hand for reheating the pasta as well.
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- kosher salt to taste
- 1/2 to 3/4 pounds pasta, such as penne or gemelli, see notes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 to 2 heads radicchio, preferably Treviso (if you can find it), cut into 1-inch-wide ribbons, see notes
- freshly ground black pepper
- 6 ounces crumbled gorgonzola or other mild blue cheese
- 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
- zest of 1 orange, plus the juice (optional)
- grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving, optional