Great friendships are often forged through common interests. Lou Palma, The Gastro-Mechanic of Montclair, and Laura Schenone, Montclair resident and author of The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, share a passion for discovering, recreating, and reclaiming their culinary heritage.
Lou suggested I attend a Saturday morning pasta making session with he and Laura. So, like any good apprentice, I listened to the gastro-mechanic and arrived in his kitchen at 9 am.
You may be familiar with Lou’s modus operandi - digital scales, tools to suit every culinary need, fans to simulate the winds of Tuscany – a perfectionist on every level. Imagine, if you could, my shock upon first meeting Laura, as she stood at Lou’s granite island, criticizing Lou’s choice of flour. After all, I had never known him to be a man to skimp on quality, nonetheless, Laura, reading glasses on, seemed to have him on the culinary quality ropes.
The matter they were arguing, In Re Gluten, consisted of Laura chastising Lou for suggesting they use Gold Medal Flour. Laura emerged victorious, when Lou obligingly produced a higher quality flour whose gluten met the Schenone specs. Apparently, he had the good stuff stashed away – just as Laura suspected.
That morning, Lou and Laura were making Chestnut Pasta and Laura wanted a high gluten flour to compensate for the lack of gluten in the chestnut flour. The pasta was to be to be topped with a heavenly, rich, and pesto-like Walnut Sauce – something I had never encountered.
Thusly, the culinary process began; pasta first, then sauce. While Lou and Laura pulsed their way to the perfect consistency, Laura spoke anecdotally describing regional pastas of Italy and the techniques employed by home cooks in Italy. Lou assisted.
Here’s the recipe for Walnut Sauce straight from Laura’s book, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken:
Walnut sauce is a dream. It goes beautifully over herb-and-cheese-filled ravioli, such as pansotti, or other fresh pastas made with chestnut flour. When these special items aren’t an option, you can make walnut sauce to dress ordinary dried pasta too, for a quick and lovely dish.
Yield: enough for 6 to 8 servings of pasta
2 cups nice walnuts (about 7 ounces)
boiling water for soaking
1 medium clove garlic, about ½ teaspoon, green germ removed
5 leaves marjoram or basil, or ½ teaspoon dried marjoram if you must
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for garnish
1 cup, more or less, warm milk, or hot pasta water, to thin out the paste.
- Place the walnuts in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Leave them to soak a half hour or so to leach out the bitterness.
- Transfer the drained walnuts to a food processor along with the salt, garlic, and marjoram or basil. Pulverize to as smooth a paste as you possibly can, pausing at times to scrape nuts down from the side with a spatula. Add the cheese and process. The mixture will remind you of pesto.
- When you are ready to serve, you must thin out this paste by adding the warmed milk or some hot starchy water from the pasta pot. Ladle in a little at a time and process. The goal is a sauce that is not too thick, but not too watery either. Aim for luxuriously creamy and smooth.
- Serve the sauce over pasta. For even more luxury, sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Lou and Laura share a very inspired relationship. It was an absolute treat to be in the kitchen with them, and added bonus to be able to eat what they prepared!