Sometimes you just need a big bowl of cacio e pepe.
Cacio e pepe is a year-round delight. Obviously, anything hot and liberally-coated with cheese is welcome in the wintertime, but its appeal goes beyond the usual hot-and-cheesy comfort food requirements. It’s a comfort food trifecta: filling, ridiculously simple to make and always delicious.
My boyfriend and I went to Folco’s in Markham, Ontario, for his birthday last year, where our friend is a chef. I can never decide what to get there, so I asked him what he’d recommend and almost immediately, he said cacio e pepe. “People don’t get it, because it’s basically just pasta and cheese,” he said, “but it’s incredible.” Spaghetti, pecorino romano cheese and pepper, to be exact.
BF got the cacio e pepe, so I had to get something else (yeah, we’re those people), but I regretted my choice as soon as I had a bite of his. It’s since become my go-to when I need a big bowl of comfort that won’t further sap my energy in its production.
I called up C’n’P for one such occasion a few weeks ago in the middle of an overwhelming week. I used this Mark Bittman recipe from The New York Times, because it looks like it knows what it’s talking about, and Bittman definitely does.
If you’re looking at my bowl and thinking I went a little heavy on the pepe, you win a gold-star-shaped hunk of pecorino romano. Serves me right for being too lazy to put my black pepper in a proper spice container, instead haphazardly dunking my hand in like it’s a grab bag of beer on a long weekend instead of a potent spice.
The pepper overpowered the entire dish, and I devoured my entire bowl (and then another the night after). That’s the magic of cacio e pepe: it’s worth a burning throat. (And let’s be real, if you’re making this, you probably don’t have the energy to make another batch, you’re likely already well-settled into your “screw you” pants.)
I interviewed Christopher Siu, the top-five MasterChef Canada competitor, at my day job today. He brought up pink peppercorns and how they are well suited to desserts. I’ve been dreaming of them (along with unlikely cheese desserts – stay tuned) all day, and decided somewhere between sprinkled-in-mascarpone and stuffed-on-chocolate-truffles that they would be a perfect substitute in my next cacio e pepe.
I know it’s slight sacrilege, but I’m dying to know how it would taste with pink peppercorns instead of cracked black pepper. I have a hunch it would be a splendid dish-saver if you’re heavy-handed with the pepe, like me.
P.S. If you keep reading cacio e pepe and pronouncing it peepee, know that a) that’s hilarious and b) you’re not alone, I keep thinking that when I type it out and I am a grown(ish)-ass woman. It’s paypay, like the soccer player. But way more lovable.