Pasta with Sweet Walnut Sauce


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

The Italian Regional Cookbook

The Italian Regional Cookbook

By Valentina Harris

Published 2017

  • About

Most people do not associate pasta with desserts, but this unusual recipe is very much a part of the Umbrian culinary tradition, and the texture of pasta works perfectly with the sweet, nutty sauce. It was created to be a part of the Vigilia (Christmas Eve) feast, in times when this special festive meal had a formal, ceremonial atmosphere. All over Italy, the main Christmas meal takes place on Christmas Eve, either after midnight mass or before the mass, depending on the regional custom. It is usually served cold.


  • 300 g/11 oz/2 ¾ cups short pasta, such as penne, tortiglione or maccheroni
  • 150 g/5 oz/scant 1 cup walnuts, broken
  • 50 g/2 oz/¼ cup sugar
  • grated rind of 1 large unwaxed lemon
  • 5 ml/1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 5 ml/1 tspunsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
  • 25 g/1 oz/2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • pinch of sea salt


  1. Bring 3 litres/ pints/12½ cups salted water to the boil in a large pan. Add the pasta, cover and return to the boil. Cook according to the pack instructions until just tender; do not overcook.

  2. Put the walnuts into a food processor. Using the blade attachment, process to a fine mass with the sugar, lemon, cinnamon and cocoa, if using. Reserve a little lemon rind to garnish. (Alternatively, pound the walnuts in a mortar and pestle, and stir in the sugar, lemon, cinnamon and cocoa.)

  3. Transfer the walnut mixture to a large serving dish. Remove a ladleful of the boiling water from the pasta and stir into the walnut mixture.

  4. Drain the pasta and add to the walnut mixture. Add the butter, then toss all the ingredients together well to distribute the sauce evenly.
  5. Leave to stand for 5 minutes, then serve, sprinkled with the reserved lemon rind. Alternatively, leave to cool and serve cold.