A handful of ingredients. Pasta with mascarpone + walnuts


I am instantly drawn to recipes that require only a few ingredients. I don’t know what is more appealing, the simplicity of the recipe or the curiosity that draws me in: will it really be that good? I often find these recipes in old cookbooks. Somehow I think we over complicate things now, adding more than what is necessary or perhaps covering up for less than delicious ingredients. Let’s face it, when you’re cooking with a handful, or less, ingredients, you need to begin with the best ingredients you can afford. Punto (that’s Italian for ‘period’!). And then less is definitely more.

I mean, what a beautiful thing a simple tomato salad is with just salt and olive oil (maybe even some mozzarella) when it is made with real, in season, local heirloom tomatoes and punchy extra virgin olive oil — need I say more?

But I’ve also made walnut cake with three ingredients (four if you count the lemon zest that adds a nice fragrance).

A favourite all purpose cure all meal of scrambled eggs and anchovies only requires four, including the herbs.

Give me a plate of artichokes and all you need is lemon, parmesan and olive oil to turn them into my favourite salad ever and this baked whole fish on a bed of garlicky, herby mushrooms only needs six things and it’s got your main and side dish covered.

So this recipe is one of those to add to this list of simple, yet totally satisfying dishes made with a handful of ingredients: pasta, butter, mascarpone, parmesan and walnuts. It’s not my recipe, but it’s my interpretation of a beautiful one out of Elizabeth David’s Italian Food, a cookbook originally published in 1954. And another plus of simple recipes — they usually don’t take long either. This sauce is put together in minutes, while the pasta is cooking so dinner is ready in less than 10 minutes.

If we are talking good ingredients probably the hardest thing to get may be very good, fresh mascarpone — it is easy to make your own. I do this when I’m not in Italy and I love it (and all you need is cream and lemon juice and although you do want to do it the day before, it requires extremely little effort. You can read how in this post. But otherwise, use store bought mascarpone for this quick fix dinner. It’s one that Elizabeth David herself describes as “rich” so you may want to have it with a nice crunchy, zingy salad to get your greens in and cut through the richness.


Pasta with mascarpone and walnuts

Serves 3

240 grams dried pasta (Elizabeth David calls for chiocciole, shells)
a knob of butter
150 grams of mascarpone
60 grams walnut kernels, finely chopped
60 grams of finely grated parmesan cheese

Place the pasta in a pot of boiling, well-salted water and check the suggested cooking time on the packet (shave off one minute for al dente pasta).

When the pasta is half cooked, melt the butter and mascarpone together in a skillet wide enough to toss the pasta in later — do not let the mixture boil, you just want it to melt. Make sure the table is set and your dining partners are sitting at the table, ready and waiting. This kind of pasta sauce is best consumed right away!

When the pasta is 1 minute away from it’s cooking time, drain, reserving about 100 ml of the cooking water separately. Pour the drained, steaming pasta into the pan with the warm, melted mascarpone, and, off the heat, toss, adding a splash or as much as you need of the pasta cooking water to help the sauce coat the pasta. Add the walnuts and the parmesan, toss together and serve immediately.


  1. Karen Sheldon says:

    Is there no search box on the new website? I can’t seem to find it anywhere!

Leave A Comment