We can't help but associate hazelnuts with sweetness: chocolate hazelnut; hazelnut gelato or even toasted and sprinkled over muesli. But what about a savoury pasta dish? Let's dig into this northern Italian inspired hazelnut sauce (salsa di nocciole) pasta recipe.
This recipe is inspired by my visit last year to Mezzaluna Restaurant in Turin, Italy - a 100% vegan restaurant. On this trip, my aim was to try as many classic regional dishes as I could, to really 'taste' the region and its influences. Much to my excitement, Mezzaluna's menu is filled with dishes from the Piedmont region, such as tagliatelle with hazelnut milk sauce. This northern region is famous for its hazelnuts, so a pasta dish showcasing this produce is about as Piemontese as you can get.
There are a variety of salsa di nocciole and crema di nocciole recipes - but many include milk, cream or cheese. My vegan version, just like Daniela Zaccuri's (Head Chef of Mezzaluna) proves that you don't need dairy to create a flavourful classic dish.
Back in Australia, I was able to get my hands on local organic hazelnuts from Truelight Farms in Victoria's Alpine region. And just for your foodie information, hazelnut varieties are also grown in central and southern Italy in the regions of Lazio, Campania and Sicily.
SPAGHETTI CON SALSA DI NOCCIOLE
If you're a fan of hazelnuts, you're going to love this pasta dish. Feel free to substitute the pasta. If you want a northern Italian style pasta, try tagliatelle, but check that it's egg free. I removed the skins on only half of my hazelnuts, which gave the sauce a lovely contrast with the brown flecks.
350g spaghetti, fettuccine or tagliatelle
180g hazelnuts, preferably blanched
80g stale white bread, crusts removed
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes or vegan parmesan
½ garlic clove, crushed
½ cup soy milk + extra
3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
juice of ½ lemon
Toast your hazelnuts on a baking tray at 180C for 10 minutes until golden brown.
In a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, about 7 minutes. Reserve 2 cups pasta water.
In a medium bowl, add the bread and pour over ½ cup soy milk. The bread will soften and lose its shape.
Into a food processor, add the toasted hazelnuts, soaked bread, nutritional yeast or vegan parmesan, garlic, oil and salt and pepper to taste (start with ½ teaspoon salt and add more later if necessary). Process until mixture becomes smooth, scraping down the sides as you go. Add a large dash of soy milk to help the mix blend more easily and become smoother.
Heat a large frypan over a medium-high heat and add half the hazelnut paste. Now pour in a little of the reserved pasta water and stir through. You want to blend this so it becomes like a cream sauce. Add the remaining hazelnut paste and more pasta water until you have a creamy sauce.
Transfer your drained pasta into the hazelnut cream sauce and stir through, ensuring all the spaghetti strands are coated. You can always add more pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Stir through the lemon juice. Check seasonings and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked black pepper.