Spaghetti with Walnut Sauce, Sardinia Style

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

According to Sardinian writer Fernando Pilla, this dish predates the appearance of tomatoes in italy. Tomatoes were considered poisonous by the Europeans until the mid-eighteenth century. The sauce can be made in the time it takes for the pasta to cook. The ground nuts produce a very creamy, unctuous sauce not unlike pesto in texture that needs a sturdy cut to support it. This is a sauce designed for the texture of pasta secca (“dried pasta”), not delicate homemade egg pasta. No cut thinner than spaghetti should be used for this dish; fettuccine, linguine, or bucatini would carry the sauce off well.

For4 to 6 people



Total Timeunder 30 minutes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Cooking for a date

Recipe Courseappetizer, main course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, halal, kosher, low cholesterol, peanut free, soy free, vegetarian

Five Ingredients or LessYes


Taste and Texturecheesy, garlicky, herby, nutty

Type of Dishdry pasta, pasta


  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 6 quarts water
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 pound spaghetti or other pasta (see recipe introduction)
  • 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water
  • 1 cup (¼ pound) freshly grated fior di Sardegna or Tuscan caciotta


  1. Grind the walnuts in a food processor until they are fairly finely ground but not pasty. Be careful not to grind too long or the oil in the nuts will be released. In a skillet large enough to accommodate the cooked pasta later, heat together the ground nuts, olive oil, garlic, and parsley over gentle heat until the garlic is softened but not colored, about 7 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

  2. Meanwhile, bring the water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and salt. Stir immediately and continue to cook over high heat until the water returns to a boil. Keep the heat on high and stir frequently to prevent the pasta from sticking together. When the pasta is not quite al dente (still slightly undercooked), drain it, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. While the pasta is still dripping, transfer it to the skillet with the sauce. Using two large forks and keeping the gentlest possible heat under the skillet, distribute the sauce well through pasta. Add as much of the 1 cup reserved cooking water as you need to moisten the sauce, adding it little by little; it is not likely that you will need more than ½ cup of it.

  3. Add the cheese to the pasta, toss, then remove from the heat and transfer to a warmed serving bowl. Serve immediately.


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