Pasta With Creamy Crushed Walnut Sauce From Heidi Swanson

August 25, 2020
11 Ratings
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Serves 8
Author Notes

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.

Recipe adapted slightly from 101 Cookbooks and Heidi Swanson, author of the forthcoming Super Natural Simple (Ten Speed Press, March 2021). —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Pasta With Creamy Crushed Walnut Sauce From Heidi Swanson
  • 2 cups toasted walnuts
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 pound dried pasta (a short shape)
  • Juice and zest of 1 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 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.
  2. 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.
  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), bread crumbs, and a drizzle of chile oil.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Diana Zahuranec
    Diana Zahuranec
  • Peggy Griswold
    Peggy Griswold
  • Jason Nelson
    Jason Nelson
  • Susan Douglass-Jones
    Susan Douglass-Jones
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

30 Reviews

momotor1 October 10, 2023
I was so excited to make this recipe. I'm sorry to say it disappointed me. Kristen, the video is great and I love watching your presentation (your daughter is adorable). I followed the recipe to the letter and the flavors just did not come together. I added parmesan, herbs, lemon, lemon zest, S&P, chili oil and toasted bread crumbs. It was missing a lower umami note that bound the flavors together. If I made it again, I would take the advice of other reviewers to add a touch of cream and blue cheese. Or maybe some anchovy?
Diana Z. July 24, 2023
I read the reviews and made a couple of changes that made this taste incredible. Will definitely make it again!
- 1 cup toasted walnuts
- 2 cloves garlic
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1/3 cup Parm
- 2-3 T heavy whipping cream
- Something spicy (to taste)
- To serve: truffle! (optional, but works really well!)
Ellen M. September 19, 2020
Closed captioning would be a great addition to your video tutorials. The tutorials are really good.
Peggy G. September 17, 2020
So where is the recipe for Oven Skillet Deep Dish Pizza? Heidi Swanson Recipe?
Susan D. September 17, 2020
It’s delish!
mikermeals September 12, 2020
Loved it!
Mirandamom September 7, 2020
I wanted to love this. To be fair, my husband likes it a lot more than I do. I found it bland. I started with three cloves of garlic and about a tablespoon of minced fresh sage. For the leftovers, I’ve grated in another clove of garlic and mixed in as much again of the sage and some extra lemon juice. I may go at it with more cheese and black pepper too. Fingers crossed.
Jason N. August 30, 2020
I have to say this was an unfortunate major let down. Completely void of any flavor, it tasted like watery pasta with nuts on it...
butterscotch September 15, 2022
Jason, I don't blame you for complaining. This is a "healthified" version of a traditional pasta from central Italy where they grow a lot of walnuts. In Italy it's usually made with cream, a blue cheese, and some wintry herb like sage or rosemary. If you try it with some of those ingredients, it won't be bland or watery.
Diana Z. July 24, 2023
Glad you mentioned this! I didn't have any blue cheese on hand, but I had leftover whipping cream which I added, and it was perfect.
Susan D. August 27, 2020
I love following you and I’m obsessed with the deep dish pizza You made early summer, a winner in our household. So this looks amazing but... I’m also following a FODMAP diet that I cannot have onion or garlic. I can have garlic infused olive oil, which I sub in most cases where a recipe calls for garlic. Now it’s not quite the same, but as close as I can you say no oil or butter or cream. So if I try my sub do you think it would ruin the sauce, it sounds so delicious? The struggle is real as I miss garlic and onion (allowed green onion tops or chives) ... cooking challenge 101. Thoughts?
Bonniesue August 27, 2020
You might be able to use dehydrated garlic. That seemed to work for me when I was following the low FODMAP diet, but everyone is different.
Susan D. August 27, 2020
I haven’t tried that yet! Thank you.
JV August 27, 2020
Susan D. What a coincidence, I’m following low fodmap as well! I’ve had success blending raw leek greens (dark green part only) into pesto to get that pungent garlicky flavor, and was planning to try that here. Another trick that I find quite effective is a pinch of Asafoetida (it’s an Indian spice). Finally, if you have access to garlic scapes (though the season has passed), those have completely authentic garlic flavor. I think Casa de Sante or another online site sells monash approved dehydrated garlic scapes in the US. Let me know how it goes!

I’m quite curious how you “fodmapped” the pizza recipe... wasn’t sure if it would work with gf flour, would love to get your input!
Susan D. August 27, 2020
GF for me isn’t an issue, though my daughter is quite jealous when I make that oven skillet pizza as it smells so good. I will look at the casa de sante dried garlic scapes! I also forgot I just got dried garlic from New Zealand (Montash approved). I do have Asafoetida, I’ve used it, I get more of the garlic essence from the infused oil though.
JV August 27, 2020
Just realized the garlic scapes are on a site called Gourmend Foods, not casa de Sante :)
Kristen M. August 29, 2020
Susan, thanks so much for your note. That pizza is such a favorite! I like the suggestions below for punchier onion/garlic flavor like leek tops, chives, green onions, scapes. I don't think you'd ruin the sauce at all with a little infused oil, but you might not get as much garlic flavor as you'd want.
Susan D. August 29, 2020
I ordered a jar from their site thanx!
Susan D. August 29, 2020
I found garlic chives at the farmer’s market today! I might try chopping up those to get some garlic flavor with a touch of the olive oil at the end!
JV August 27, 2020
This looks delicious, cant wait to try. I loved watching the demo too!

Curious whether it really serves 8... I’m deciding whether to halve it to serve my family of 4 (0.5 lb pasta doesn’t seem like enough, but maybe the walnuts are heavy)? Would love feedback from anyone who’s made it!
Kristen M. August 29, 2020
Heidi recommends on 101 Cookbooks halving this to serve 3 or 4, but my husband and I eat a lot of pasta, so we've had no problem eating the full recipe over the course of a couple meals. Heidi used a hearty whole grain pasta, so that might make it more filling. I think you'd be happy making the full recipe, and you can make a stew with any leftovers!
JV August 30, 2020
Thank you for responding! We made the whole thing and it was polished off - no leftovers! And soooo delicious
P-R August 26, 2020
Are there any potential alternatives to walnut for those allergic? I get that these might be the secret to the sauce but curious bc this sounds so appealing.
phip August 26, 2020
Have you ever tried soaking the walnuts over night and then roasting. Soaking eliminates toxins that cause tongue to be irritated.
Sara S. August 27, 2020
She mentions in the video that you can use other kinds of nuts — or do you mean an alternative to nuts entirely? (If so perhaps some combination of seeds...?)
Kristen M. August 29, 2020
Yes, Heidi encourages trying other nuts, and seeds would be a good alternative.
Mike V. August 29, 2020
Or perhaps a recipe that doesn’t have nuts in the title!
Marilyn T. September 2, 2020
P-R, I used pistachios instead of walnuts, and it was great! Added a little cilantro for garnish.
witloof August 26, 2020
When I was visiting friends in Italy a couple of summers ago, I offered to grate the Parmesan {a beauteous, glistening chunk we had bought at an outdoor market the day before} for that evening's pasta, and I was instructed to crumble it between my fingers instead, as the texture was so much more respectful to the cheese.
One thing I will miss about going back to normal is the home videos here! So charming.
Kristen M. August 29, 2020
I love the nubbly texture from the food processor, and I could see the crumbles being really nice, too. Thank you, witloof!