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2015-01-21 12.03.27In my last post, I mentioned a garlic sauce that was served with cucumbers in Cetrioli alle Noci. This sauce is very similar to Agliata which Giacomo Castelvetro describes in his The Fruits, Herbs and Vegetables of Italy (1614).

Dried walnuts are used in a garlic sauce called agliata, and this is how you make it: first take the best and whitest walnut kernels [the thin brown skin removed], in the quantity you need, a ladleful should be enough for eight people, and pound them in a really clean stone mortar (not a metal one) in which you have first crushed two or three cloves of garlic. When they are all well mixed, take three slices of stale white bread, well soaked in a good meat broth that is not too fatty, and pound them with the nuts. When everything is well mixed thin the sauce out with some of the same warm meat broth until you have a liquid like the pap they give to little babies, and send it to the table tepid, with a little crushed pepper. Prudent folk eat this sauce with fresh pork as an antidote to its harmful qualities, or with boiled goose, an equally unhealthy food. Serious pasta eaters even enjoy agliata with macaroni and lasagne. It is also good with boletus mushrooms…

Modern cookbooks still provide very similar instructions for this sauce to be served with pasta. This one from BigOven seems to be very close to Castelvetro’s original instructions. The BigOven author mentions eating this sauce on spinach artichoke ravioli, but I think it could also be served on a good quality tagliatelle or fettuccine as well.

Agliata Per Pasta (Garlic and Walnut Sauce For Pasta)


1 cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp stock; warmed
1/2 cup parsley; stems trimmed
6 tbsp olive oil
2 slices bread; stale, crusts removed
3 medium cloves garlic; chopped


Soak the bread in the stock and then squeeze out any excess moisture. Combine the bread with the walnuts, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor. Process, adding the olive oil in a very slow stream until you have a thick paste. Toss with your favourite pasta & serve hot.

Another recipe substitutes a half cup of basil instead of the parsley, and adds half a cup of grated parmesan cheese, with a flourish of shaved parmesan when served. (That is pesto, isn’! it?) Elizabeth David, in her Italian Cooking (Penguin Books, 1969) has an interesting recipe for Pasta Shells with Cream Cheese and Walnuts or Chiocciole al Mascherpone e Noce, but is without garlic. while her Salsa di Noci is yet another variation on walnuts and garlic. I reproduce it here as it also gives the directions are sample of Ms. David’s wonderful prose.

Salsa di Noci (Walnut Sauce)

2 oz. of shelled walnuts
1 coffee cupful of oil
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 ½ oz. of butter
1 large bunch of parsley
salt and pepper
2 tbsp of cream or milk

Take the skins off the shelled walnuts after pouring boiling water over them. Pound them in a mortar. Add the parsley, after having picked off all the large and coarse stalks. Put a little coarse salt with the parsley in the mortar – this will make it easier to pound. While reducing the parsley and the walnuts to a paste add from time to time some of the butter, softened or just melted by the side of the fire. Stir in the breadcrumbs, and, gradually, the oil.  The result should be a thick paste, very green; it need not be absolutely smooth, but it must be well amalgamated. Stir in the cream or milk. Season with a little more salt and ground black pepper. A bizarre sauce, but excellent with tagliatelle, or with fish, or as a filling for sandwiches.

Carla Capalbo in The Ultimate Italian Cookbook (ISBN 1-85967-013-X),  uses butter instead of oil, as well as some cream, for a rich sauce, but my preference would be for the more basic Agliata recipe above.

Quite possibly, the origin of these sauces combining garlic and walnuts could be the Turkish recipe called Tarator. The one given below is in Ghillie Basan’s The Complete Book of Turkish Cooking (ISBN 978-1846811760). The sauce is apparently served in Turkey with deep fried fish and steamed vegetables.  Tarator is a name given to a number of concoctions in the Middle East (see Wikipedia article) formerly all part of the Ottoman Empire. What they all have in common is garlic, and usually nuts.  Interestingly enough, Tarator also describes a soup in Bulgaria which combines yoghurt, walnuts and cucumbers as well as garlic, which would relate it to the Cetrioli alle Noci mentioned at the beginning of this post.  In Turkey and Syria, the yoghurt would be substituted with tahini paste. It seems to be a relative of the Greek Tzatziki and Skordalia sauces. Modern cookbooks suggest using a food processor rather than a mortar and pestle.  The wonderful Turkish dish called Circassian Chicken and its sauce seem to be part of this large family.

Garlic and Walnut Sauce (Tarator)

6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
50 gr walnuts, roughly chopped
2-3 slices day-0od bread, soaked in water and squeezed dry
3-4 tbsp olive oil
juice of half a lemon
ground black pepper

1. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic to a paste with a little salt. Add the walnuts and pound them to a coarse paste.

2. Add the soaked bread and slowly pour in the olive oil, beating all the time to form a thick pulpy mixture. Beat in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Serves 4-6

Even more basic is the Ailade aux Noix (Garlic-Walnut Sauce) to be found in Jean-Luc Toussaint’s The Walnut Cookbook (ISBN 0-89815-948-2).  This is a terrific cookbook entirely devoted to the walnut as a culinary ingredient in French country cooking.

Aillade de Noix (Garlic-Walnut Sauce)

½ cup walnut pieces
6 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup walnut oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the walnuts and peeled garlic in  a food processor and mix to a paste, Little by little, add the walnut oil to the mixture in the food processor, pulsing to mix until you have a smooth mayonnaise-like sauce. (Purists would not use the food processor for this last step but would whip the mixture with a fork.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Yield: : 2/3 to 3/4 cup

And, of course, many recipes for pesto use walnuts and garlic combined with various herbs.  Here is one with walnuts, garlic and sage, courtesy of Not Without Salt.

Sage Walnut Pesto

¼ cup Italian parsley
¼ cup tablespoons mint
1 cup (2 ½ oz.) sage, packed
2 garlic cloves
½ cup (2 oz.) walnuts, toasted
½ cup (1/2 oz.) grated Parmesan
½ cup (3 ¾ oz.) extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Combine first six ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend to a rough purée. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the machine running stream in the olive oil. Add the zest, lemon juice, then taste and add salt to taste. Adjust seasonings to your preference.

Jean_Siméon_Chardin_-_Pears,_Walnuts_and_Glass_of_Wine_-_WGA04784I mentioned the wonderful still-life paintings of Giovanna Garzoni (1600-1670) in a previous post. About a century later, in France, the painter Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779) created a number of still-life paintings which were highly praised in their day, and are revered today.  Here is his Pears, Walnuts and a Glass of Wine, ca. 1768 (oil on canvas, 33 x 41 cm, Musée du Louvre).  Pears, walnuts and a glass of wine are worthy of a simple meal in themselves. We are blessed to have a couple of pear trees and a walnut tree in our yard.

About Chardin’s work in his review of the 1763 Salon, Diderot would exclaim: “O Chardin! You no longer grind white, red or black pigments on your palette, but the very substance of the objects themselves, it is air and light that you capture on the tip of your brush and that you set on your canvas.” [my translation]

The humility of this simple fare, exemplified in the recipes I have copied above, are within reach of most folks I know, while the blue cheese is an option, as is a good piece of home-made bread.

© Roger H. Boulet, 2015. (Excepting actual recipes)