23 July 2012

Eats: Walnut sauce a la ZaZa

If you’re honeymooning in Italy (OH NO THERE SHE GOES AGAIN ABOUT THEIR HONEYMOON), one of the things you’ve got to look forward to is the food. And indeed, Mr. P and I ate very, very well during our time there. There was the focaccia, the mascarpone and speck pizza, and frequent trips to GROM for gelato.

But I already told you about my favorite meal in Italy: ravioli with walnut sauce and a glass of Orvieto at Trattoria ZaZa. We actually ate at ZaZa for dinner twice in our three days in Florence because it was so good. And as a thank-you present/souvenir for our gourmet friends who took us to and from the airport for our honeymoon, we purchased the English edition of ZaZa’s recipe collection for them.

Before I passed it off to them, though... I copied the walnut sauce recipe. Can you blame me?

I held on to this recipe without using it for two years, but for our second-anniversary dinner last month, I gave it a try. And I’ll attempt to share the walnut sauce magic with you! Key word, however, being “attempt”, for two reasons: first, I’m not sure that I made it correctly (it was better in the restaurant and when our friends had us over for dinner and made it). And second, related to the first reason, the directions did not entirely make sense to me.

For starters, the recipe calls for “bread roll filling soaked in milk.” No amounts or any further clues. Maybe you have better google-jujitsu, but I could not figure out exactly what that means. My best guess was the interior part of... a bread roll (I KNOW, I IS A GENIUS). So, I took a soft garlic breadstick from our grocery:

I put my hand in as a reference for size, but then again, I guess you might assume I have giant mutant hands. I’m as useless as the original recipe.

I hacked away at the breadstick crust, leaving what I suppose is the “filling”.

Soaking it in milk left this wad of wet bread that ended up forming the basis for the walnut sauce.


Aside: When I was a fairly young kid, I decided to bake a cake by myself. The recipe called for a teaspoon of “soda”, so I promptly opened a two-liter of generic Diet Coke, measured out one teaspoon, and threw it in my cake batter. Only later, to my mother’s extreme amusement, did I discover that it meant baking soda. Whatever, my cake was still delicious.

I am starting to feel like this “bread roll filling” thing is probably like the “soda”. It’s like code, but for what?!

But I digress. Let’s move on to the walnuts. The recipe here is more specific: SIXTEEN WALNUT MEATS. Well okay then! For that, I bought these walnut halves:

And counted out precisely thirty-two in my food processor, pausing to occasionally freak out at how walnuts appear to have spiders embedded in them:

Seriously, what is that?!

Fortunately the next step was to pulse the spidery walnuts into oblivion.

According to the recipe, these walnuts now should be mixed with the bread roll filling, a pinch of marjoram, a pinch of salt, and a few more tablespoons milk. It should have a “thick consistency”, it says.

Giant ball of thick starchy walnut paste? Close enough!

Now it’s time to somehow turn that into a sauce – a task that seemed nearly impossible given the directions, but I gave it a try anyway. First, I sautéed about a clove’s worth of garlic in olive oil:

The recipe had the garlic blended in with the walnuts, but I wanted to make sure I cooked away any raw garlic taste. Then after a few minutes, I added the ball-o’-walnut-paste, along with ricotta cheese:

According to the recipe, I should have added 80 grams. I went with my tried-and-true method of measuring out “some” instead.

Then, because this did not seem so much like a sauce as a fried bits of ball-o’-walnut paste, I added a bunch of half-and-half. I’d guess around a cup, but unfortunately I didn’t take a photo so I can’t estimate.

But that’s it! Stir it up until heated through, and you’ve got yourself a ZaZa walnut sauce! In the meantime, I cooked the spinach ravioli that Mr. P and I picked up at one of the many Italian markets nearby. The spinach pasta with its artichoke filling was a little strongly flavored for this sauce, so next time I’ll probably use a plain cheese ravioli.

Overall I’m calling this a success despite the lost-in-translation (language or culture or both) directions, but I would like to try it again with just a basic roux instead of the mysterious “bread roll filling” bit. The bread gave it a crazy thick texture, and I think a roux would be just fine. If you give it a try – or if you have any idea what the heck “bread roll filling” means – let me know!

But who cares, really. The walnut sauce was a delicious part of our anniversary dinner, complete with... that’s right... a glass of Orvieto! Thanks, local Italian market that imports actual Italian wines. Point STL.

We also had that freaking awesome strawberry cake that you see in the background, which I made from scratch. But you’ll have to wait until next week’s Eats to hear how I made that!