Pansotti pasta with walnut sauce is a traditional dish from the Italian Riviera in Liguria, Northwest Italy. Similar to cappelletti or tortellini, pansotti (or pansoti) is stuffed ravioli-like pasta filled with ricotta and a variety of herbs and greens. This is a delicious easy to make vegetarian recipe that is popular on Sundays and religious days of abstinence from meat such as Christmas Eve and particularly during Lent.
Pasta in Liguria.
According to food historians, Liguria is where ravioli was invented. In fact, they have been making fresh egg pasta in the region since the 13th century. So, as you can imagine, there are many traditional and ancient Ligurian pasta types and recipes. One of my favourites is silk handkerchief pasta with pesto which is said to be the oldest pasta and pesto recipe. I also love Ligurian corzetti, medallions of pasta stamped with a design that date back to Medieval times!
The origins of pansotti pasta with walnut sauce.
This pansotti dish is actually a more modern pasta recipe. It was first referred to in print in the 1931 Italian gastronomic guide published by Touring Club Italia. This publication mentioned a recipe from the town of Rapallo on the Italian Riviera called ‘pansoti cu a salsa de nuge’ in the local dialect. As you can imagine, that means pansotti with walnut sauce!
What does the name pansotti mean?
The word ‘pansotti’ (or pansoti) comes from the Italian word ‘pancia’, meaning belly or potbelly. In the Genovese dialect, they say ‘pansa’, hence pansotti! Although in some parts of Liguria they make pansotti shaped as triangular ravioli or mezzalune (half-moons), the name refers to a pasta with a paunchy shape. In Genova province, this pasta is usually shaped like a large tortellini or tortello, which is how we made it.
Pansotti pasta with walnut sauce is a dish that symbolizes Ligurian foods and flavours. All the ingredients traditionally used in making this dish are typical of the Ligurian kitchen. The original filling is made with what locals call preboggion, or prebuggiun. This word cannot be translated into standard Italian, much less into English.
What is preboggion?
In short, preboggion is a mix of wild herbs that have been foraged, boiled and served together. There are 14 herbs that make up the Ligurian preboggion. These include wild chicory (radicchio), wild Swiss chard, dandelion, poppy, borage, wild fennel and nettles, plus others I’m not sure of the translation for!
Of course, Ligurians don’t use all 14 in their pansotti filling. These herbs don’t all grow at the same time of year or in the same areas! In fact, preboggion tastes different depending on the season, so too do the pansotti filled with it!
What herbs or greens can you use in pansotti?
According to the official recipe for pansotti pasta in Rapallo (yes there’s an official recipe), there should be a minimum of 4 types of wild herbs/greens in particular quantities of which at least 50% is borage and not more than 20% is wild Swiss chard!
In the past, they made pansotti with at least 7 wild herbs which had to be picked in the morning! Of course, even in Liguria, it’s not possible to forage wild herbs when you want them. Plus, most of the herbs in preboggion aren’t available to buy at the local veg market!
Subsequently you can make your pansotti with a variety of other greens. I used swiss chard, wild radicchio, and spinach. But, you can also leave out the wild radicchio or use borage instead.
Other pansotti filling ingredients.
Apart from the herbs and greens, the filling for pansotti includes egg, cheese, nutmeg and marjoram. Some people use only nutmeg or only marjoram. The cheese is traditionally parmigiano or grana and prescinsêua. The latter is a curd cheese, typical of the Genova province. It’s kind of a cross between ricotta and yogurt. Of course, you can use normal ricotta, or you can mix ricotta with yogurt or sour cream to get a similar flavour.
How to make pansotti filling.
The first step in this pansotti pasta with walnut sauce recipe is to make the pasta filling. The herbs and greens need to be washed, chopped and boiled. Then after draining and removing as much liquid as possible, you need to chop the greens and then put them in a bowl. Add the cheeses, egg, marjoram and nutmeg, mix everything together and your filling is ready!
How to make pansotti dough.
The next step is to make the pasta dough. Pansotti pasta dough has flour, water, egg and wine, although some recipes omit the egg. Recipes without egg, increase the amount of water or wine! The dough is made like other egg pasta dough by mixing the ingredients together in a bowl or on a wooden pastry board. Then you have to knead the dough until it’s soft and pliable. After letting the dough rest for 30 minutes, roll it out using a rolling pin or pasta machine.
How to fill and shape your pansotti pasta.
Finally, once you have rolled out the dough, cut it into squares of about 5-7 cm (2-3ins), place a large teaspoon of filling in the middle of the pasta square and fold it over into a triangle, pressing around the edges to seal. You can also brush the edges with water so your pansotti seal better.
To keep it simple, you can leave the pansotti as triangles. But if you want to make the traditional tortello shape, then bring the 2 outside corners of the triangle together and join them by pressing and sealing.
Place your ready pansotti on a floured surface while you finish the rest of the dough and filling. We had extra filling which my husband, Salvatore, used to make fritters! Very good!
How to make the walnut sauce.
Pansotti is nearly always served with walnut sauce. Traditionalists say this pasta doesn’t work with basil pesto, even though Ligurians use that pesto in many pasta dishes. Some people serve pansotti with a hazelnut sauce or just butter and sage.
This walnut sauce is really a ‘white’ pesto as it’s made almost the same way as other types of pesto. The main difference is that it’s quite thick and needs to be diluted with pasta cooking water before adding the pasta to it.
You can read more about the history and origins of Ligurian walnut sauce in my other walnut sauce pasta recipe. Apart from walnuts, you will need bread, milk, garlic, pine nuts, marjoram, olive oil and Parmigiano. Strict vegetarians will want to use a vegetarian parmesan as Italian Parmigiano is made with animal rennet.
In the past, this sauce was made with a pestle and mortar like other types of pesto! But today with kitchen tools like immersion blenders and food processors, it’s really fast and easy to make. The walnuts taste sweeter if you boil them first but it’s not essential. The bread needs to be soaked in milk and then all the ingredients go into your food processor or blender. Pulse intermittently until you get the right consistency, adding more extra virgin olive oil, water or milk as necessary. Done!
Serving or freezing your pansotti pasta.
Like most filled pasta, it’s better to cook the pansotti the day you make them or freeze them. Because of the moisture in the filling, the pasta dough can start to get soggy after a while. So, it’s also not a good idea to store this pasta uncooked in the fridge. To freeze, place the pasta spread out on a tray that fits your freezer. Once the pansotti are frozen, transfer to a freezer bag and seal.
Pansotti are quite large so they need a little time to cook. However, cooking time obviously depends on how big you make them and how full they are. Generally, 8-10 minutes in boiling salted water is enough, but test taste before draining and adding to the sauce! Frozen pansotti should be cooked without defrosting. However, cooking times may be longer.
If you make this pansotti pasta recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out. Please write a comment here on the blog, email me or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.
Your feedback is really appreciated!
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Other homemade ravioli recipes you will love.
- Baked fish ravioli from Liguria
- Sardinian ricotta and saffron ravioli
- Pumpkin tortelli from Mantova
- Baked Easter ravioli from Le Marche
- Potato and mint ravioli from Liguria
- Gnocchi ravioli from Friuli Venezia Giulia
If you are interested in learning how to make other homemade pasta and different types of gnocchi, check out my shop page for some great video online courses from my friends in Rome! Nothing beats learning to make pasta from Italians! Plus while you’re there why not order a copy of one of my pasta recipe cookbooks or checkout some recommended pasta making tools? All great prezzies for pasta lovers!