Ligurian pasta stuffed with wild greens in black walnut sauce

Today I plan to whisk you away to a magical mountainous trail through Liguria where people seem to subsist on pillowy pasta filled with an abundance of wild greens and foraged herbs. This recipe is surprisingly hearty and full-flavored as a result of mixing the heady aroma of black walnuts with the umami of the braised greens.

They make this raviore with the pasta rolled around their filling like candy wrappers. These kinds of folds always appeal to me because I like the way that you get various textures from the pasta this way. Patience Dock is a wild plant that’s comparable to a hearty sorrel - it’s what was available at the market which is why I used it, but after braising it is the most savory green I have ever tasted.  I don’t really go in for meaty flavor but this shit almost tasted gamey.  I think I might roll butcher grind black pepper into the pasta next year when it comes back into season.  However I think this basic dish would work well with a wide variety of greens prepared in a similar manner.  At work I’ve been making a nettle puree that is super-exciting and would also work real well.  Ms. Zanini de Vita says that this pasta, raviore, is often served with walnut cream which got me thinking about a walnut sauce that’s basically like a pesto but with less herbs and halfway to a nut cream - nut-forward, you might say.  And since it’s black walnut season….

Wash the greens thoroughly and take off any woody or thick stems.  Put them in a pot with 4 tablespoons of good olive oil, salt to taste, and a little pepper and cook over medium heat until they’re all wilted and tender and there is only a little liquid left in the pot.  Remove them from the pot and either chop them up extremely fine with a knife or use a food processor to puree them.  Either way gradually add a nice olive oil to give them a creamy feel and adjust the salt and pepper.  When this has cooled roll out your pasta dough into large rectangles as thin as you can.  It might be a good idea to incorporate some coarsely ground black pepper into your pasta fr this recipe and you can add it in part way through rolling the dough out.  The pasta should be thin enough so that If you gently drape a sheet over your hand it won’t tear but you should be able to see your hand through it.  Cut them down to rectangles about 6cm x 8cm.  Place a dollop of filling in the middle of each rectangle.  Moisten one edge of the rectangle with some water and roll the opposite edge over the filling to meet it. Apply some pressure to seal it. Gently twist both ends to seal in the filling and make it look like a tootsie roll in it’s wrapper.  rest

For the sauce:

  • 4 cups Black walnuts in shell, or one cup shelled
  • 1/3 cup salad burnet, plus a few nice leaves for garnishing
  • 1 t meyer lemon zest, or a mix of lemon and orange zest
  • 1 medium clove of garlic, or a similar sized piece of green garlic 
  • Salt pepper

If using black walnuts from the shell, take a hammer to them on a hard concrete or steel surface.  Pick out the pieces using a cake tester or something like that.  Try to keep as many large intact pieces as possible.  Over low heat, toast the black walnuts in a nonstick pan.  Separate out the nice big chunks and then combine the rest, while still warm, with the garlic, herbs, and lemon zest in a mortar and pestle or a small food processor.  Season with salt.  While mixing, add just enough olive oil to lubricate the process, and mix just until it’s a homogenous but chunky sauce.  If it seems greasy, here’s how to fix it:  while pureeing, gradually add in just enough water bind it back together.  

When you’re ready to serve, put up a large pot of salted water to boil.  When it’s boiling hard turn it down to a simmer.  Place the still warm sauce in a mixing bowl (if the sauce has been refrigerated, heat it up very gently in a metal mixing bowl over low heat).  Drop the raviores into the simmering water and watch until they float; then with a slotted spoon place them in the sauce.  Toss a few times just to coat.  If the sauce looks oily or is too thick, add a little of the pasta water and toss again.  Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, or some of the juice of the lemon if need be.  Set on the plate and sprinkle with the reserved pieces of toasted black walnut and salad burnet.