03 November 2011


SARONNO, Italy – The mud slides and floods that have devastated Liguria, and in particular the Cinque Terre, this week, got me thinking about the unique cuisine, a cucina povera, that is also part of the cultural heritage of this area. One of the most delicious dishes that developed in Liguria is pansotti with nut sauce. Nut sauce is simply a combination of crushed nuts, milk soaked bread and a few flavor enhancers like garlic and marjoram. 
Ligurian Nut Sauce
If you have traveled around Italy you know how different the food can be from one region to another. You probably already know that you won’t find Tuscan specialties like pappa di pomodoro (see Auntie Pasta: Viva la Pappa 6/2/2011), or saltless Tuscan bread in Turin, nor will you find Piedmontese specialties like bagna caộda or raviolini del plin with fonduta (see Auntie Pasta: Restaurants of Turin, 9/9/2010) in Florence. 

Given that the regional cuisines developed around the raw materials that were available, in my humble opinion the Ligurians, who had the least to work with, a few herbs and nuts and olive oil, ended up with one of the best cuisines in Italy. Salsa di noci, (nut sauce) known as Tocco de nux in Genovese dialect, is a perfect example. Here’s the simple, but delicious recipe. 
Salsa di Noci
1 glove of garlic
250 ml of whole milk
Marjoram, (one stem of fresh is best but a sprinkle of dried marjoram is ok too.)
250 grams of walnuts
½ wine glass of olive oil
40 grams of soft, white bread (no crusts) cut into small cubes
40 grams of Parmigiano Reggiano
30 grams of pine nuts (optional)
Salt (q.b. quanto basta or - to taste)

To make the nut sauce (1) first blanch the nuts in boiling water for at least 5 minutes so they are easier to peel. Then drain them and let them cool. In the meantime  (2) put the cut up bread in a bowl and cover with the milk, and (3) when they have absorbed the milk, squeeze them dry and put them in another dish, keeping the milk apart.

Peel the nuts, one by one (4) and put them in a blender (or in a pestle if you are using a mortar and pestle), together with the pine nuts, garlic, cheese (5) and oil (6).

Add the soggy bread and the marjoram (7) and whiz it all together in the blender adding a little milk (from the milk you set aside)  if needed, until the mixture is creamy and dense (8), then add salt.  The nut sauce (9) is then ready to use.  

If you are using a mortar and pestle, be sure to pound the mixture energetically, adding a little oil or milk (the milk you set aside earlier). You can also save yourself a little work by buying already peeled walnuts in the grocery store. If you are not fond of garlic just leave it out.  While this recipe is not exactly like the original, it still very good. 
Pansotti with Salsa di Noci
 Salsa di noci is most often served with pansotti alla Genovese which are a type of ravioli filled with a mix of herbs and a bit of ricotta.  

If you read this blog with any regularity you know that everything you eat and eat with here in Italy, has a story behind it, and salsa di noci is no different. It seems the sauce was invented by Ligurian farmers to go with their pansotti, a ravioli that was given this odd name because it is a little paunchy, or ‘un po panciuta’.

In the past, pansotti were filled with whatever herbs and vegetables the farmers had at their disposal. It was never the same and so the combination – whatever it was – became known as ‘preboggion’. Pregoggion could be made up of whatever herbs were in season like Swiss chard, borragine,  pimpinella,  dente di cane,  raperonzolo, l'ortica,  cicerbita and parsley. And other than the Swiss chard, dandelion and parsley, I don’t have a clue what the others are.

As for the nut sauce, you can put it on almost any type of small, vegetarian ravioli. It will keep in the frig for a couple of days, but not much longer. If it gets too thick, thin it with a few drops of milk. 

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