Feels good to start the new year by posting a new version of one of my all-time favorite pastas, spaghetti with ricotta cheese. The original Italian (and very Roman) recipe is stunning in its simplicity. It consists of merely combining ricotta cheese with some of the water in which the spaghetti was cooked, and using the creamy mixture as a pasta sauce. Adding just a sprinkle of freshly grated black pepper. Oftentimes, perfection can be achieved with so incredibly few ingredients.
A couple of months ago I saw a variation on the theme in a post by Beloved Green. Walnuts were added to the ricotta cheese, which immediately sounded like a match made in heaven. The creaminess was given by butter and olive oil, rather than by the pasta water, and the taste was further enhanced by the addition of parsley, lemon, and garlic.
I adapted the new recipe by making it closer to the original ricotta sauce I grew up with. Indeed, if you know how to make good use of the pasta water (full of gluten and salt) you do not need to add butter or olive oil for creaminess and taste. Also, the addition of parsley and garlic could take away from the other ingredients, risking of overpowering them. I did keep the lemon juice. The walnuts needed it.
SPAGHETTI WITH WALNUT AND RICOTTA PESTO
You need: 500 g (1 lb.) spaghetti (all-wheat is a good choice), 150 g (1 and 1/2 cups) walnuts, 250 g (1/2 lb.) ricotta cheese, 1/2 lemon, marine salt, freshly ground black pepper.
How to: Step 1. Start with heating the water for the pasta (remember to always boil the pasta in abundant water or else you won’t have good, al dente, pasta). Just before throwing the spaghetti in, add salt to the water. The amount of salt depends on the amount of water – it is always better to add enough salt to the water so that there’s no need to put a lot of salt into the pasta sauce. Step 2. Meanwhile, quickly roast the walnuts in a frying pan (or in the oven), crash into small pieces (you can use a food processor), and mix in a bowl with the ricotta. Add the juice of the lemon. Step 3. Before draining the pasta (al dente), save 2-3 cups of the boiling water and set aside. Add some of the hot water to the pesto and then combine with the spaghetti. Add more pasta water (not necessarily all of it) and continue to mix until the pasta is perfectly creamy (not watery) and smooth. Sprinkle with pepper when the spaghetti are served.
CONSIDERATIONS: I am always silent when I start eating this pasta dish. The combination of the smooth and vaguely sweet taste of the ricotta and roasted walnuts is perfectly complemented by the hint of sour and spicy of the lemon and black pepper, making me speechless. This is generally the sign that I am truly enjoying the food. Indeed, I absolutely cannot interrupt the important activity of savoring something I really like and I am deeply annoyed if someone tries to get my attention at this point or, even worse, make me talk. Food, just alike art, sometimes is best enjoyed alone. So, if you ever cook for me, remember… if I express a positive comment too early, I am, more than likely, just being polite. If I am quiet instead… then, you’ve got me.