Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pasta with Walnuts, Sage, and Fresh Ricotta--Flavors of Autumn

Even though I do not post pasta recipes every week, in my kitchen I make it at least once a week, often even twice when kids ask for it. We all love it! I cannot imagine my life without pasta. Whenever I give a choice to my kids what to eat for dinner the answer is always pasta.

I always make my own fresh sauce and if possible I try to make it from seasonal ingredients. So during the course of the year my pasta could be topped with mushrooms, herbs, fresh tomatoes, creamy lemon sauce, but most often it would be with our favorite sauce made with roasted red bell peppers. Sometimes I do it with salmon but hardly ever with meat. I often serve it with fresh cheese and always with glass of wine (for grown-ups). And nothing tastes better or more comforting than pasta, and there is no home-made dish that is easier to make in no time.

Last week, I bought a bag of walnuts in shells, mostly to put them on a wooden plate as a seasonal decoration. But they reminded me of a pasta dish that I usually make only in the fall--pasta with walnuts. And I don't even remember where I got this recipe from.

I toast walnuts and sage leaves in butter. When toasted, walnuts become even more aromatic and crunchy. If I have them, I use black walnuts, which are more aromatic than the regular ones and remind me more of those I used to eat in Poland. Then I mix them with hot pasta and fresh creamy ricotta cheese. It is important to use fresh ricotta--pasta does not taste half that good made with the regular supermarket ricotta, which is too dry and chewy. I buy mine at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, or at the Italian delicatessen. I love this contrast of the almost sweet, smooth cheese and spicy, very flavored taste of nuts and herbs that all come from a fall harvest and smell like autumn. To spice it all up a bit it is good to add a few hot pepper flakes. But also it takes hardly ten minutes to have a wonderful dinner.

Pasta with Walnuts, Sage, and Fresh Ricotta
(Serves four)

1 box (1 lb) penne pasta,
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts,
1 large bunch of sage leaves, chopped crosswise,
15 oz (425 g) fresh ricotta cheese,
6 tbsp butter,
4 garlic cloves, chopped,
1 tsp red hot pepper flakes,
salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. In a large pot bring water to boil with one tablespoon of salt. Add pasta, bring it to boiling, turn down the heat and boil until al dente for about 8-11 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan. Melt butter and add garlic. Fry them for about 2 minutes, then stir in the walnuts and sage. Fry them for about 5 minutes, until the nuts are toasted and sage leaves get darker and crispy.

3. Drain pasta and add to the frying pan. Mix well. Turn off the heat and add fresh ricotta. Season with hot pepper flakes, extra salt--if you need to--and generously with freshly ground black pepper.

Serve immediately and enjoy.