Walnut Sauce for Pasta and Gnocchi (Salsa di noci)

Walnut sauce (salsa di noci) on tortellini

Lois Slokoski / Getty Images

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Soak: 5 mins
Total: 15 mins
Servings: 2 to 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
414 Calories
34g Fat
23g Carbs
11g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2 to 4
Amount per serving
Calories 414
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 34g 43%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 8mg 3%
Sodium 231mg 10%
Total Carbohydrate 23g 8%
Dietary Fiber 3g 11%
Protein 11g
Calcium 200mg 15%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

This super quick-and-easy, no-cook sauce, hailing from northwestern Italy's coastal Liguria region, is great on gnocchi or any short, fresh pasta such as trofie or corzetti. Delicate and subtle, it's also ideal for filled pasta such as ravioli or tortellini, as it's delicate enough not to overpower the flavor of the filling.

Allegedly it originated as a sauce for Genovese-style pansotti, a triangular Ligurian pasta stuffed with a filling of ricotta and chard, spinach, and wild herbs such as borage. It's good on long, thin pasta as well, such as spaghetti or thick, chewy pici. You can also serve this as a simple antipasto or appetizer, spread on slices of crusty bread or crostini (small toasted slices of bread). 

Sometimes this sauce is made with half walnuts and half pine nuts, with the addition of a splash of white wine, or with cream, but we prefer this simpler, lighter version, made with just walnuts, garlic, and milk. 

It would pair well with a white Ligurian wine such as a Pigato or Vermentino, or a Prosecco when served as an antipasto.


  • 2 slices of soft white bread (about 30 grams), crusts removed and torn into pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup (4.4 ounces/125 grams) shelled walnuts
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of fine sea salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon fresh marjoram leaves
  • Optional toppings for serving: fresh marjoram leaves, minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, toasted chopped walnuts, additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Soak the crustless bread pieces in 1/4 cup of milk until softened, about 5 to 10 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, puree the nuts, garlic, Parmigiano, oil, salt, nutmeg, and marjoram (if using) together in a food processor or blender, or with a handheld immersion blender, to form a smooth paste. (If you want to do it old-school, use a mortar and pestle to grind the garlic, nuts, salt, nutmeg, and cheese together to a smooth paste before transferring to a separate bowl to stir in the olive oil.) 

  4. Add the softened bread to the pureed nut mixture and puree again until smooth and even. Add additional milk, a little bit at a time, as needed to adjust the consistency. It should be about the same thickness as a basil pesto sauce if using on pasta, a bit thinner if using as a spread.

  5. Enjoy.


  • When serving on pasta, be sure to retain some of the pasta cooking water to thin the sauce when tossing it together with the pasta before serving. 
  • The sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, or frozen for several weeks.