My first experience with cacio e pepe was a mistake.
I saw it on a menu, thought “Pasta, cheese, pepper? Sold.”, and ordered by pointing at it, too afraid of revealing my inexperience by garbling the pronunciation.
I shouldn’t have worried. They didn’t know what they were doing either. What arrived at my place was a gummy, gooey mess with nary a speck of pepper to be seen. I took a couple bites, then moved the rest of it around my plate with a fork, like I’d regressed to childhood and was trying to convince my parents that I was eating, then gave up on the dish.
My true error was not in the (persistent, misguided) fear of making a verbal gaffe, nor in the restaurant’s bungling of the dish (maybe it was a bad night?), but in my decision to write off cacio e pepe as a result. Until that is, I had a good—nay, stellar—version of it at Maialino, where I wondered if my dining companions would mind if I hoarded the “shared” plate all to myself, and realized what I’d been missing out on.
I’ve continued to order it at restaurants, but I’ve also learned that it’s an easy dish that can and should be made at home. Plus, in the privacy of your own kitchen, no one’s there to judge if you choose to use “forbidden” non-Roman ingredients like Parmigiano-Reggiano or egg yolk.
With her Waste Not Pasta, hardlikearmour has created the perfect weeknight version of cacio e pepe. It might not be traditional—she uses whole wheat spaghetti, Grana Padano, and adds lots of greens—but it’s a fast, delicious version that’s sure to make it into your regular dinner rotation.
The addition of greens has multiple benefits: Hardlikearmour realized the peppery greens complemented the black pepper in the pasta, and they give the dish a nutritional boost to boot. Plus, the recipe calls for radish or baby turnip greens, but as she says, it works with “whatever fairly tender greens you may have in your fridge or garden,” adding, “It's a great way to 'rescue' some food that may otherwise end up in the compost pile or trash.”
- 1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
- Kosher salt
- 2 to 3 bunches radish or baby turnip greens (or really whatever tender greens you've got)
- 2 ounces Pecorino Romano (plus additional for serving)
- 2 ounces Grana Padano (or substitute Parmesan)
- 2 to 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (plus additional for serving)
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 to 3 generous handfuls baby arugula or baby spinach, rinsed if needed
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Know of a great recipe hiding in the Food52 archives that uses an overlooked kitchen scrap (anything from commonly discarded produce parts to stale bread to bones and more)? Tell me about it in the comments: I want to know how you're turning what would otherwise be trash into a dish to treasure!