When many regions lay claim to a dish, that means a couple of things. First, it’s so good that people want credit. And, secondly, there are bound to be many variations. Such is the case with pasta with ricotta and walnuts.
Some regions in Italy from Sicily to Liguria and to Emilia Romagna, create a finely ground pesto of ricotta and walnuts (pesto doesn’t necessarily mean basil. Take my arugula pesto for example). I prefer toasting walnuts and leaving them in large pieces. I also like to add seasonal favorites. Just walnuts and ricotta can be too rich and little one-note for me. It’s a comforting and filling combination, for sure.
But right now, I’m enjoying adding cubed ham and cherry tomatoes to round out the dish. The ham (and similarly, smoked white fish, like trout!) add a salty depth and the cherry tomatoes add some needed acidic relief from the rich walnuts and ricotta. This is a dish that you can make throughout the year and customize with seasonal ingredients.
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“Comfort Spaghetti” (with Ricotta, Walnuts, Ham and Tomatoes)
- 10 ounces spaghetti (a “little more” than a half a package of 1-pound, 16 ounce dry spaghetti)
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk ricotta
- 1 cup toasted walnuts
- 3-4 ounces ham or smoked trout
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon finely minced rosemary
- 1 tablespoon kosher (not table) salt for pasta water
- 1 teaspoon kosher (not table) salt for sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Pre-heat oven to 350F (177C). Place walnuts on a small baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes (do your best not to skip toasting them. It makes a big difference)
- Bring a large pot of water (approximately 4 quarts) to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of kosher (not table) salt
- Boil pasta for approximately 2 minutes under the package directions (around 8 minutes)
- Mince rosemary, and dice ham (or smoked trout) to 1/2 inch (1 cm)
- Slice the cherry tomatoes in half, set aside
- While pasta is boiling, heat a large sauté pan to medium heat and add olive oil
- Add minced rosemary, ham (or smoked trout) and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to pan. Sauté for 2 minutes to heat through
- Transfer the spaghetti to the sauté pan with tongs. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water
- Add ricotta and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to sauté pan. Stir all ingredients and heat for several minutes
- Gently toss all ingredients to combine and coat the spaghetti. Use the remaining reserved pasta water, a little at a time to thin the ricotta to make a thick sauce and to help the spaghetti finish cooking
- Add the walnuts and cherry tomatoes and give one final toss