Thank goodness for a new speedy pasta—especially one with a proper sauce that requires almost no cooking. As Heidi Swanson writes on 101 Cookbooks, “This is the best thing I’ve cooked with the least amount of effort in the past month.” I would have to agree.
Heidi continues, “Most of my lazy lunches never make it to the site, but this pasta is an exception. If you have a favorite dried pasta, a few cloves of garlic, walnuts, and black pepper you can make it too. The other ingredients—lemon zest, a bit of grated cheese, a finishing cascade of bread crumbs 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.”
A few tips: Heidi recommends a short, sauce-catching pasta shape like reginetti, fusilli, or conchiglie and also warns not to toast your walnuts too dark, as it can make the sauce bitter. She has lots of wonderful ideas for riffing on the sauce over at 101 Cookbooks: Try using different toasted nuts or a blend; throw in broccoli florets or chopped asparagus in the last minute of boiling the pasta (no need for a vegetable side!). Plus, a delicious idea for leftovers, if you have them: Warm up the nutty, garlicky pasta with cooked white beans, stock, and a handful of chopped kale for a bright, immediate pasta e fagioli–like stew.
While you’re bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil, crush the walnuts and garlic together in a mortar and pestle. Alternately, you can pulse with a hand blender or food processor, but leave a bit of texture and chunkiness.
Cook the pasta per package instructions in the boiling 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 as thick as heavy cream. You’ll likely need about 1 3/4 cups of pasta water, 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.
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), bread crumbs, and a drizzle of chile oil.