Cacio e Pepe

February 5, 2010 at 8:12 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Italian, Necessarily nonvegan, Pasta, Spring recipes, Starches, unrated, Winter recipes)

Derek had had a really excellent version of cacio e pepe in one of Mario Batali’s restaurants, and was very excited about trying it.  Mario Batali’s version has quite a bit of olive oil and some butter, but the Cook’s Illustrated recipe looked unusually light for a cream pasta.  They cook the pasta in very little water so that the water ends up very starchy, and can be used to help make the sauce more cohesive.  We decided to give it a try.Ingredients

6 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese , 4 ounces finely grated (about 2 cups) and 2 ounces coursely grated (about 1 cup) (see note)
1 pound spaghetti
Table salt
2 tablespoons half and half -or- heavy cream
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper


  1. Place finely grated Pecorino in medium bowl. Set colander in large bowl.
  2. Bring 2 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven.  Do not adjust the amount of water! Add pasta and 1½ teaspoons salt; cook, stirring frequently, until al dente. Drain pasta into colander set in bowl, reserving cooking water. Pour 1½ cups cooking water into liquid measuring cup and discard remainder; return pasta to now-empty bowl.
  3. Slowly whisk 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water into finely grated Pecorino until smooth. Whisk in cream, oil, and black pepper. Gradually pour cheese mixture over pasta, tossing to coat. Let pasta rest 1 to 2 minutes, tossing frequently, adjusting consistency with remaining ½ cup reserved pasta water. Serve, passing coarsely grated Pecorino separately.

My notes

The first time I made it I halved the recipe, using half the pasta, 1/2 pound of spaghetti, 3/4 tsp. salt, and 1 quart of water.  But then I forgot that I had halved the recipe an dused all the heavy cream and olive oil.  Oops!  It was great though–really peppery and creamy and delicious.

The next time I made it I made the full 1 recipe, but I cut the pasta amount a bit and added in some broccoli.  I also used whole wheat pasta, which didn’t work so well.  You really have to bend the pasta a lot to get it submerged in the water.  But the whole wheat pasta, unlike the white pasta, didn’t bend, it just cracked.  The broccoli ended up overcooked and the whole dish was undersauced and underseasoned.  Next time I want broccoli with this dish I won’t try to do a one-pot meal, but will just steam the broccoli separately.

The third time I made the dish for company (a total of 7 people) and served this pasta as the third course.  We started with a winter salad with sage, nuts, roasted squash and other veggies.  The second course was my white bean and fennel, rosemary soup.  Then I served small portions of this pasta.  After I mixed it all together it didn’t taste peppery or salty enough to me.  Strange.  I added more seasoning, but it still didn’t taste nearly as good as the first time.  Maybe because I didn’t add the extra olive oil and cream?

Nutritional stats with half and half, and assuming pecorino romano is about 110 calories per ounce, 72% fat and 28% protein (Nutritional stats are hard to find for this cheese–I’m not positive about this):

Macronutrient breakdown: 26% fat, 57% carbs, 17% protein

Serving Size: 1/4 recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 298
Total Fat 8.6g
Saturated Fat 4.9g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 22mg
Sodium 813mg
Carbohydrate 42.4g
Dietary Fiber 2.1g
Sugars 1g
Protein 12.4g
Vitamin A 6% Vitamin C 0%
Calcium    19% Iron 11%

High on salt and saturated fat, low on fiber and vitamins.  I’ve been brainstorming what veggies and/or other seasoning would go well with this dish.  Here are ideas I’ve compiled from recipes online:

  • asparagus
  • chinese black mushrooms
  • fresh mint
  • with pear and asparagus
  • fried garlic and shallots
  • artichokes
  • leeks
  • roasted cherry tomatoes
  • zucchini flowers
  • lemon juice

Asparagus is the obvious choice, but I think it might be too grassy for the delicate flavors of the pasta.  I don’t know what chinese black mushrooms taste like, so I can’t really comment.  I can’t quite imagine the mint, but it’s intriguing.   Pear could be interesting, if you got a really good pear.  Zucchini flowers would probably be quite nice, if I could ever find them here.   I’m thinking…thinly sliced dried figs.

1 Comment

  1. What I’ve been eating lately « The captious vegetarian said,

    […] night I made a version of Mario Batali’s cacio e pepe (unlike this one, without cream) except that I only made 2/3 of the recipe, I cut the oil down a bit, and I added […]

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