Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

Walnut pesto with shiitake and cremini mushrooms, chicken apple sausage and whole wheat penne — one of my favorite quick pasta recipes.


Now that we have a chest freezer, I’m going a little nuts. Literally. I went to Trader Joe’s and loaded up on pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts. There’s something comforting (to me anyways) about having a fully stocked pantry and freezer. I can make anything!

I made walnut pesto twice before, three years ago, and loved it. But Jim wasn’t as enamored. This week I started thinking again about walnut pesto and once I got the idea in my head, I had to make it. But it’s no fun making something that someone else is only “meh” about. How could I make it better? And then it hit me. Chicken apple sausage. Walnuts and apples — that’s a match. And I just happened to have a few packages of chicken apple sausage in the freezer.

Once I started picturing this new version, I also saw mushrooms, onions and thyme – they would give the pasta more oomph. So this is more than walnut pesto pasta 2.0. It really is a whole new dish. And we love it. I hope you do too. I’m pretty sure you will.

Penne with Chicken Apple Sausage and Walnut Pesto | Grabbing the Gusto

Penne with Chicken Apple Sausage and Walnut Pesto

You’ll need a large pot and lid (for pasta), large pan, food processor (or blender), two small bowls and colander.

  • 10 ounces whole wheat penne
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water
  • 3-1/2 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced (that’s one package at my market)
  • 5 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced (and that’s half a package)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 links Aidell’s chicken apple sausage (or something similar), sliced lengthwise then into 1/4” pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to boil. Add the pasta, stir to separate the noodles and cook until al dente, according to the package directions. Before draining, ladle out about 1 cup of the pasta water into a bowl.

In a large pan, sauté the mushrooms and onions with some salt on low heat until tender. Stir in the sausage and thyme.

Meanwhile, put the walnuts, garlic and salt in a food processor and process to a coarse paste. With the motor running, dribble in the olive oil and walnut oil and process just until combined. Transfer the puree to a bowl and stir in the Parmesan and cream. Add a few grinds of pepper and stir the mixture until it is well combined.

After draining, return the pasta to the pot and mix in the walnut pesto and then the sausage mixture. Add a little of the cooking water at a time and toss until the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce, adding more water as needed. I like to reserve the pasta water I don’t use and add it to the leftovers before refrigerating them. It’ll help get the pasta back to a creamy consistency when you reheat it.

Serve with the Parmesan cheese and the pepper grinder at the side.


1 year ago on Gusto: My Famous Homemade Eggnog

2 years ago: Russian Teacakes

3 years ago: Chicken with Cranberries and Apples

4 years ago: Clam Dip and Shrimp Crostini

2 thoughts on “Penne with Chicken Apple Sausage and Walnut Pesto

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