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Rotini with walnut sauce (×2)

July 9, 2009

The first recipe I wanted to make when I bought Giada de Laurentiis’s third book, Everyday Pasta, was her rotelli with walnut sauce. As I was compiling a shopping list before leaving work one day, I googled the recipe so that I could pick up the goods on the way home. In my search, I came across Mark Bittman’s recipe for pasta with walnut sauce, from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (which I also have at home). The two recipes were the same idea, but there were some subtle differences in ingredients and technique. I decided to play a little game—I would make a half batch of each sauce, and see how the two compare. Giada vs. Bittman! (My vegan interpretations of each, that is.)

One note before we begin: I cooked up a single box (13.25 oz.) of rotini and split it between the two sauces. I ended up wishing I’d cooked two boxes. These are half batches of sauce, but they made WAY more than was needed to coat the pasta. Maybe it’s just me—I guess when it comes to rich and creamy-ish sauces, a lot of people like their pasta swimming in it. I, being averse to most rich and creamy-ish things, do not, and it was just too cloying to me. I loved the flavor, but couldn’t handle that much of it. I’m sad to report that I ended up putting about 1/3 of the noodles in a colander, rinsing them clean, then mixing them back in, just to cut down on the heaviness. Such a waste! Unless you want walnut sauce with pasta instead of pasta with walnut sauce, make a full box of pasta for each half batch of sauce.

For Giada’s recipe:
1 box (13-16 oz.) whole wheat rotini
2/3 cup walnut halves, toasted
1T Earth Balance
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2T nutritional yeast
2T dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup plain soymilk
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water. Meanwhile, combine the walnuts, Earth Balance, salt, and pepper in a food processor and pulse to combine.

With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil in a steady steam. Once incorporated, pulse in the nutritional yeast and breadcrumbs. With the machine running, drizzle in the soymilk in a steady steam. Once incorporated, transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Pretty, um…weird-looking, huh? Instead of adding the pasta followed by the pasta water, I put in about 1/2 cup of the water first so that I could smooth it out (and make it a little more appetizing/attractive).

Muuuch better. Add the hot cooked pasta and stir to distribute the sauce. Add the reserved pasta water, 1/4 cup at a time, until the sauce completely coats the pasta, using only as much as is needed (I didn’t need much extra, having thinned it out before). Sprinkle with parsley, toss and serve.

For Bittman’s recipe:
1 box (13-16 oz.) whole wheat rotini
1 small slice Italian bread
1/4 cup plain soymilk
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted
1 clove garlic
2T nutritional yeast
2T dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water. Soak the bread in the soymilk.

Let me pause for one moment here to tell you why I did what I did. Though I absolutely love bread, and am in fact a bit of a fiend for it, I almost never have it in my house. I’d say I buy, on average, 1-2 loaves of bread per year. Why? I just don’t use it IN things. I don’t eat sandwiches, so that nixes that. Though I love a good slice of bread toasted, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with garlic salt, I get my fill of such things in restaurants, and I don’t want to have to eat a whole loaf of bread that way. As for recipes, I almost never make any that require bread. The last time I had bread in my fridge was for my white bean and broccoli pasta toss, which necessitated fresh breadcrumbs. And I struggled to use the rest of that loaf! So anyway, I generally don’t buy bread, and I certainly wasn’t going to buy any just to use one slice here. Instead, I did some off-the-cuff problem solving in the store, and grabbed three packets of these little Lance bread sticks off the salad bar. Since they were going to be soaked and ground, the texture difference didn’t really matter.

So, whatever kind of bread you have, soak it in the soymilk. Combine the nuts, garlic, nutritional yeast, and breadcrumbs in a food processor and pulse to combine. Then, with the machine running, add the oil gradually, using just enough so that the mixture forms a very thick paste. Add the bread-and-soymilk mixture…

…and just enough water to make a saucy mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer to a large bowl and toss with the hot pasta. If the sauce appears too thick, thin it with the pasta water, a little at a time. Adjust seasoning to taste, and serve.

And now, the finished products, side by side:

Which is which, you ask? Well, I have a confession to make—I don’t exactly remember. I’m 75% sure that Giada’s is on the left and Bittman’s is on the right, but I can’t be certain. You know what, though? It doesn’t matter. They tasted nearly identical. Despite the extra 57 calories and 6.8g fat, Giada’s version was only marginally richer, and even that difference was barely detectable. Both were deliciously nutty and just barely creamy, with deep olive oil undertones and a hint of hearty “cheesiness” from the nutritional yeast. If I must pick a winner, I’d say the edge goes to Bittman, simply because his tasted just as decadent, but had fewer calories and less fat. Hooray for experimentation!

So after all that work of making two separate sauces, would you believe I ended up just mixing the batches together to pack up as leftovers?

Giada’s recipe—Yield: 6 servings. Per serving: 458 calories, 23.7g fat (3g sat), 54g carbs, 8g fiber, 13.2g protein.
Bittman’s recipe—Yield: 6 servings. Per serving: 401 calories, 16.9g fat (2g sat), 54.6g carbs, 7g fiber, 12.9g protein.

If you like this, you might also like…
White bean & broccoli pasta toss
Spaghetti with raw tomato sauce
Tofu parmigiana alla marinara

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