Pasta with Butter, Sage and Walnut Pesto

Butter and sage (and parmiggiano) are a wonderful combination as a dressing for pasta.  Traditionally, in Italy, stuffed pastas are dressed this way–ravioli, tortelli, tortelloni–depending on which region you’re in.   But plain fettucine happen to be delicious dressed simply with butter and sage.   In addition, chopped walnuts are very good with  butter and sage.  They can be sauteed in the butter with the sage, and this is yet a richer  dressing for pasta.  

I love the combination of butter, sage and walnuts, but I feel the dish needs something to lighten the richness of the butter and nuts.  Therefore, instead of adding walnuts to the butter with sage, I’ve decided to make a pesto with walnuts and arugula to top the dish. 

Arugula has a wonderful bright flavor that pairs well with nuts and cheese, therefore this pesto makes the ultimate use of that combination.  Walnuts, arugula, and grated parmiggiano are a bright yet rich topping for an already deeply luxurious pasta. 

Because the main “sauce” for this pasta is the butter and sage, I use this pesto as a garnish, more than a sauce.  I add a bit to the skillet with the butter and sage, but the rest goes on top of each serving of pasta. 

Incidentally, this pesto has a couple of beautiful qualities that traditional basil pesto does not.  It can be heated in a skillet without losing its delicate flavor–this is huge because you can blend the piping hot pasta with piping hot sauce, rather than adding cold sauce to hot pasta and serving a lukewarm dish of pasta (Italians are fanatical about serving pasta hot!).  The other beautiful quality of this pesto is that it doesn’t discolor–also huge in my book–I hate brown pesto.

This pesto is  meant to be a flavor-enhancer and brightener for the butter and sage, but after you taste it, you may want it to be the entire pasta sauce by itself!

Pasta with Butter, Sage and Walnut Pesto

serves 4

1 lb dried fettucine

12 sage leaves

8 tbls unsalted butter

walnut pesto (see below)

Boil pasta in plenty of salted water.  When pasta is about 4 minutes shy of being done, melt butter with sage leaves in skillet large enough to hold pasta.  When pasta is just about cooked, add a couple of tablespoons of the pesto to the skillet with the butter and sage.  When pasta is cooked, fish it out of the pot and toss it into skillet with butter and sage (with the cooking liquid clinging to it).  Add enough pasta water to loosen the sauce a bit.  Serve in heated pasta bowls and top each with a dollop of pesto. (approximately a tablespoon)   Serve plenty of grated parmiggiano at the table. 

Walnut Pesto:

2 c tightly packed baby arugula leaves, washed and dried

1 cup walnuts

1/4 c grated parmiggiano

1/4 c + 2 tbls extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

Place arugula and walnuts in food processor and pulse until walnuts are coarsely ground.  Add remaining ingredients and process to a paste.  Set aside and serve at room temperature.

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