The GOAT Pasta Dish
I'm Teaching How to Make Cacio e Pepe In This Week's Cooking Class...
**This weeks live cooking class in Friday at 8PM central time. Also recording it so you can watch later. $5/month to become a paid subscriber! Give it a shot by clicking button below**
When I was a sophomore in college, I moved off campus to live in an apartment. This meant that the school cafeteria was less accessible and even though my combo meal at Taco Bell was only $3.11 - three soft tacos and a Mountain Dew - I had a $20 a week food budget and a George Foreman Grill.
My lexicon of “recipes” was exactly four.
My mom’s chocolate chip pie. The Colonial dinner rolls that I would heat up under broiler with lots and lots of butter on top. George Foreman grilled chicken breast that had been “marinated” in Italian dressing. And finally…angel hair pasta with butter, the fake Chef Boyardee parmesan cheese, and pepper. I had no idea how close I was to cooking a legendary Italian pasta dish.
I thought I was making alfredo or something of the sort. Years later when I started reading about Mario Batali and watching his appearances on TV, I noticed he was always going on about how alfredo wasn’t really an Italian pasta dish. Mainly that the adding of cream to a cheese loaded pasta sauce wasn’t something you would find in the old country. But it wasn’t until I watched an episode of Bourdain that discovered the closest thing to it, and in turn figuring out my favorite traditional Italian pasta dish.
When Bourdain was still doing No Reservations, they produced an entirely black and white episode in which he perused around Rome as if he were some classic character from a Federico Fellini film. It was the type of episode the network couldn’t have been thrilled about, but it is to this day the best episode of travel television that has ever been made.
An entire segment was devoted to Anthony visiting a restaurant that he would only refer to as “Restaurant X”. The reason being that he carried sort of a paradoxical guilt with him in that he often made restaurants famous and brought them success that would not have been possible without his endorsement, but with that came a sense that he was ruining certain gems across the world that were popular with locals and those in the know. I get it. I miss being able to pop into my favorite BBQ spot during a regular lunch hour any day I want without having to wait in line behind 75 people. Now I only go at 3pm on a Wednesday when I know there won’t be a wait. I’m glad they are successful, but it definitely creates a barrier for locals. The fact that out of all the places Bourdain has eaten on TV, that he chose to try and keep secret ONLY this one restaurant says a whole lot to me. It was special to him, all because of one, perfect dish - Cacio e Pepe.
I’m only an expert to the extent that I’ve made it more than any other pasta dish, and I’ve read a lot of different recipes and techniques. Most commonly it seems that it is made with spaghetti, although I love it most using rigatoni. Fresh spaghetti is the best for Cacio e Pepe in my opinion, but thats harder to come by (or make yourself) and therefore dried does just fine. You need really good extra virgin olive oil, Pecorino Romano, fresh cracked pepper, and pasta water.
Mario Batali - ok look he’s been the guy I’ve learned almost everything Italian cooking from. As far as an American chef communicating and teaching about REAL Italian food, there has been nobody better. That’s the foundation of my understanding Italian cooking. There are many great resources and he’s not the only one that knows how to cook Italian food, but he’s where I started so I’m not about to unlearn 10 years of shit just because he did some bad stuff. Anyways, Batali has multiple recipes and techniques for Cacio e Pepe out there on the internet. Some use butter, which strict traditionalist will say is a big no no, but butter is awesome and his use of it in this dish probably stems from the fact that restaurant chefs add butter at the end of cooking literally anything.
Some recipes call for different, harder to find cheeses in the US. Some call for a combination of Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano. I’m a big fan of combining the two but it IS a Roman dish so Pecorino Romano is the proper cheese if you will. You can look up videos where they finish the pasta in a huge wheel of cheese table side. I’m sure it’s delicious but it’s mostly for show. Fun videos to watch though.
Batali has one version that calls for 1/4 cup of black pepper and Jesus Christ it’s so intense. And yes the cheese and the pepper are the stars of the dish, but depending on the pepper and the grind, that can be way too much. It takes some time to calibrate how much pepper is good for you personally, but don’t a be a little bitch about it. Get a lot of pepper in there.
This Friday at 8PM central I’m showing my paid subscribers how to make my version of Cacio e Pepe. It’s the best pasta dish in the world and I feel like I’m in pretty damn good company with that declaration. I’m recording the class so if you can’t make it Friday night you can always watch it later. It will be about 30 minutes (although once you know how to make this, it’s 10 minutes tops start to finish excluding waiting for water to boil) and it will be well worth the $5 to add this to your repertoire of recipes. It’s the perfect weeknight meal and I guarantee you it will impress your friends at dinner parties. Serve it as a 2nd course after a salad and before a steak or grilled fish. I can’t stress how important it is for you to learn this dish and how much you will benefit from knowing it without having to look up a recipe. It brings so much joy to my kitchen. Even my kids love it, with a reduced pepper amount of course. I’m slowly building them up to a respectable level.
This November, my wife and I are planning a 10 year anniversary trip to Rome. I can promise you that day one, we will be going to Restaurant X and drinking wine and eating Cacio e Pepe. I’ll take pics, but I won’t tell you the name of the restaurant. Not hard to find with a little digging on Google, but I don’t want to ruin it even the smallest amount. I’m spending the next 6 months learning Italian on Rosetta Stone to be the best version of an American tourist I can be when I step foot into Restaurant X.