Friday, April 17, 2009

Borrowing from the Brilliant

It is rare that a recipe will come to a person seemingly from thin air. This is especially true for those of us who cook at home for ourselves, family and friends and not at an avant-garde restaurant for a discriminating, high-paying clientele. Usually our recipes are inspired by someone who came before us, and we add and subtract from them or make new uses of them and call them our own. When we're borrowing from someone especially inspired or downright brilliant, so much the better. They in turn probably borrowed from someone before them, and so on and so on, and we all benefit from this process of culinary evolution. (An exception to this tendency is my dad's peanut butter and cheddar cheese sandwiches, clearly a spontaneous mutation and an evolutionary dead end!)

And so I came to borrow a recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Orangette by Molly Wizenberg. (If you like to read about food and cooking, you should be reading Orangette.) Ms. Wizenberg recently posted a recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Walnut Crema and Pecorino. I was hankering for some asparagus even though the locally-grown crop won't be available for more than a month (this is Minnesota, after all). Before I finished reading the recipe, however, the roasted asparagus had really become an excuse to try the walnut crema, and when I saw that the recipe would make much more than I needed for 2 servings (one for me and one for Harry), I began to brainstorm uses for the leftovers.

I decided on pasta sauce, and was guided by what I had in the freezer and refrigerator, namely a flavorful chicken sausage and kalamata olives. We had eaten half of the package of sausage, Cranberry and Cognac Chicken Sausage by Amylu. (The web addresses on the package led to nowhere, or I would have put them here, so, sorry, no sausage "links." Haha?) The flavors had made my imagination wander and this walnut sauce seemed to be a potential partner. It turned out to be a match made on (By the way, if you find this sausage, look at the ingredient list. It's all real food! What a pleasant oddity! I found it at Woodman's supermarket in Onalaska, WI.)

I made the sauce just as published in Orangette and you can get that recipe here. Basically, you simmer walnuts until they are softened and process them with sauteed red onions to a hummus-like paste. The result is a rich, delightful, and multipurpose sauce. I did find that I needed simmer the walnuts longer than the recipe suggested, but just taste them (careful, they're hot!) and you'll know if they need more time. I served as much of the sauce as I wanted with the roasted asparagus. It was as delicious as I had hoped.

I refrigerated the leftover sauce before I could eat it all with a spoon. The next day I tossed it with penne rigate (penne pasta with grooves in it) and sliced sausage, which I browned, deglazing the pan with brandy (I didn't have any cognac; you could use wine, broth or even water). I added kalamata olives, and chopped flat-leaf parsley. Be sure to save some pasta cooking water when draining the pasta. (I put a measuring cup in the colander I'm going to use to drain the pasta so I don't forget.) You'll need it to thin the walnut sauce. Also, whole wheat pasta would have been even better here, and would have increased the Whole Foods Quotient (WFQ) of the dish. Shame on me for not having any in my cupboard.

Finally, I sprinkled each serving with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and toasted walnuts. You could use whatever cheese you like. I won't judge. Unless, of course your cheese comes from a green can!

(I didn't post a photo with this dish, since the only one I snapped was of the leftovers, and they looked much sadder than they tasted.)

Penne with Chicken Sausage, Olives and Walnut Sauce

2/3 cup Walnut Crema from the blog Orangette
1/2 pound dry penne rigate or other short pasta (whole wheat pasta would be nice)
2 links fully cooked cranberry and cognac chicken sausage (or other sausage)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons brandy (or other liquid)
1/2 cup pitted, chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for sprinkling

1. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of cooking liquid.

2. In a large pot or pan (I used the same pot I cooked the pasta in), saute the sausage until browned. Add the garlic and saute 30 seconds.

3. Add the brandy and cook about 1 minute, scraping the brown stuff from the bottom of the pan. (Mmmmm....brown stuff.)

4. Add the cooked pasta, walnut sauce, parsley and olives. Toss to coat everything in the sauce, adding reserved pasta cooking water to thin it out as needed.

5. Serve sprinkled with Parmesano-Reggiano and toasted walnuts. I got 4 modest servings from this, but if you're a bigger eater, count on 2-3 large servings.


  1. What? Sausage you can identify? I was more familiar with the "brown bits, pink bits, white bits, and green bits you hope are herbs."

  2. Sausage with ingrediants that the company will admit to? Whatever happened to the traditional "Brown bits, pink bits, white bits, and green bits that you hope are herbs"?