13 Oct 2011

Tagliatelle with Walnuts and Pork sauce Sicilian style

Tagliatelle che Nuci - Tagliatelle with Walnuts
Free food... What is the power of food offered as a gift? Does it depends on the subtlety of the offer or is just linked with the food itself? Is our ability of evaluating a meal influenced when it is offered to us? Naturally it is different if a sibling, friend, colleague offers us a morsel of his/her sandwich as answer to our starving-puppy eyes or if the meal is offered by complete stranger. In this case, do we always approach food guided by our instinct of self-preservation? Food has deep power toward any living being. As rooted into our DNA, food inherently means life and we will always be grateful to anybody who offers us some (that doesn't make us sick). I have just finished to listen to an episode of the "Crimes Against Food" podcast on "Free Food" and it just resonated with me. As blogger, we are often offered goodies to sample or to review. Rare are the occasions nowadays when this offer comes honestly without any analytic or critical duty attached.

A baby would spot a cookie in the hand of anybody and would reach out to it; give it to them and they will lit-up with a smile that will fill your heart. I have already written a piece about "The Weight of a Foodie", there are situations where being a foodie can be a detriment to the experience; we may tend to ovecriticize at times.
Personally I am pretty forgiving regarding the flavors of a dish (as long as it is edible) but I am more strict toward the basics of the hospitality business. Butter should never be served fridge-cold when you are supposed to spread it on equally cold slices of stale bread; if you sell me a "Caramelized goat cheese tarte with basil pesto and salad" I surely do not expect to receive a "Sour-sweet onions and goat cheese phillo-tarte with basil pesto and plain greens".
You see, here there are two kinds of crimes to consider: the first is negligence and sloppiness the second might be verging toward false-publicity. The result of both is the same, you ability to appreciate the meal is drastically ruined.

To get back to free food and my trip to London; two were the occasions were such a kind gesture was able to change the direction of an evening so much that it was worth a specific folder on our special-memories drawer.
One night, to celebrate Sarka's boyfriend's birthday we went to a local Italian restaurant in their neighborhood; a tried and favored restaurant of theirs I should add. The food was just as it should be: simply well prepared, no fuss about it (how can it be bad when you start smelling wafts of nutty butter coming from the kitchen?).
All our dishes (a fresh Lemon sole, an entrecôte in pepper sauce and a pasta with broccoli) were fresh and true to their nature. By themselves they would have made the evening worth remembering if it wasn't that the owner, at the end of our meal, offered us a little bit of a very special liquor of his private stash.
It was home-made grappa, as it is used in the old country; thick with essential oils, velvety and rich in the mouth. The simple of gesture of leaving the whole bottle on our table giving us the possibility to even finish it, was what made us feel special. Naturally we wouldn't even remotely be able to finish such a nectar and still be able to stand on our two feet and roll uphill toward home (stopping for chips on the way). The pride in the offered gift and the consideration given us resulting from this simple offer of free booze, made the whole day.

Urban landscape in BelgraviaUrban landscape in Belgravia
The second special occasion of freebies wasn't about booze but about chocolate. On the day me and Sarka went to meet Hilda I got to know that in the neighborhood of our restaurant there was a Pierre Hermé shop. Need say no more. I had to drop by and gift my friends a box of his amazing bonbons au chocolat. That same night, after having spent the afternoon being chased by Hilda's papoose in the park, we sat to watch a movie when I started unwrapping the precious dark brown box from its fire-red leather thread. The eyes of my friends skeptically followed the operation until...they popped one bonbon in their mouth. The deep silence of critical appreciation left its place to a rumble of moans while eyes rolled as a sign of the ethereal experience taking place.
We stopped the movie player and finished the box of chocolate sharing each bonbon as well as high pitched screams of surprise for the new life-changing trouvaille (I hear that my friend went back to Pierre Hermé right on the day I left; they were hooked!).

Power web in Sydenham

Sharing is in us foodies, we do not want to be alone in our madness of ingredient haunting and crazy recipe martial-law regime; we want to bring other down the spiral. This is I am trying to do with all of you lately, sharing special recipes from my home land Sicily. Today is the turn of a pasta dish with walnuts. Despite the almost ubiquitous use of cream when dealing with walnuts and pasta, Sicilian cuisine has almost no cream in it. The fatty richness is usually provided by meat (pork, beef or veal) often cooked so its collagen transforms into moist gelatine. The use of different cut, even different kind of meats in a single recipe, is quite common; often these meats are even cooked separately. In the recipe I share with you today, I comply to these traditions to give the dish a variety in texture and sapidity that best highlights the crunchy goodness of roasted walnuts.
Tagliatelle che Nuci - Tagliatelle with Walnuts

Pasta che nuci #1/Tagliatelle with walnuts and pork sauce Sicilian style

Ingredients (serve at least 2): 
  • 125g pork meat 
  • 125g sausage meat 
  • 25g of butter or so 
  • 1 medium onion, chopped 
  • 1tsp tomato paste (double-concentrate) 
  • 1/2tbsp muscat wine 
  • 2tbsp dry white wine 
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 40g walnuts 
  • Tagliatelle 

Cut the pork meat in little dices (8mm/1/3") and crumble the sausage meat in similar sized bits; in the meantime heat a heavy bottom pan over medium fire. 
When the pan will be nicely hot, transfer the meat in it and let it brown nicely on all sides. Set the meat aside on a bowl and melt the butter into the hot pan. When the butter will start to smell nutty, sauté the onions in it until translucent. 
In a little cup, mix the tomato paste with both the wines and poor it on the onions scraping any browned juices on the bottom of the pan. When the wine will be almost completely evaporated, transfer the meat into the pan; add the bay leaf and cover with vegetable stock. Put the lid on the pan and let the sauce simmer gently for 30-40 minutes or until the meat is tender. Keep an eye on the sauce, it shouldn't dry up too much. If at the end of the cooking you will have too much water remaining, uncover the pan and let the sauce reduce. 
Check the sauce for seasoning and add salt and black pepper and keep warm. 

While you boil the water for the pasta, warm up the oven to 150C/300F. Spread the nuts on a baking tray and toast them in the oven for roughly 10 minutes; keep an eye on them. 
When the tagliatelle will be ready, drain and toss them with the sauce, some of the toasted walnuts crumbled with your fingers and extra-virgin olive oil if needed to lubricate the pasta. 
Crumble the rest of the walnuts directly over the service plates and enjoy.


  1. This looks so good. I'm allergic to nuts however. Does the walnuts and meat work well together? Will have to make it for the family. :) Thanks for sharing this recipe.

  2. I absolutely LOVE nuts in pasta. Actually... in almost everything? :) The texture, the flavour... they really add so much! What a lovely-looking dish!

    I love how you describe food-lovers as givers. I really think there's something to that. Beautiful post, Ale. Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us!

  3. Pasta and nuts is a great concept and have been around for years. I always look to my cupboard for different ingredients to with pasta all the time.

  4. Yes! Yes, walnuts are so right here and so Italian. GREG