Genius Recipes

A Genius “Cacio” e Pepe That’s Unusually Hard to Screw Up

Not traditional, extremely delicious.

October 31, 2018

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

If you’re in need of more muscle memory dinners, more answers that call back to you when you stare into the fridge with an empty, hopeful brain: This speedy little cacio e pepe is here for you.

Photo by Julia Gartland

I should say: This speedy little “cacio” e pepe, because there is no cacio (cheese). But the effect is remarkably similar and, by divorcing himself from the aged pecorino in the cult Roman pasta, Momofuku Noodle Bar Executive Chef Tony Kim has made this rich, comforting salty-spicy-creamy pasta sauce more accessible to anyone in the mood, regardless of the skills they possess and how deft they’re feeling at the time.

This is because traditional cacio e pepe relies on practice and patience, and vigorous tossing—a technique well worth mastering, but maybe not tonight—to make a smooth sauce. Dry, grated cheese and starchy pasta water don’t inherently gravitate toward one another—the wrong heat, timing, moisture, or position of Mercury can send the sauce into dry and clumpy misalignment.

Photo by Julia Gartland

But, as Kim has discovered, a swirl of miso, butter, and chicken stock do no such thing—they love melding together. “The emulsification process pretty much happens on its own,” Kim wrote when he published this recipe in Lucky Peach in 2016.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Really disappointed to see all the negative comments here. I’ve made this many times over the years after seeing the recipe in a Lucky Peach magazine. It’s delicious! Despite the comments about it bearing no resemblance to true cacio e pepe, it does. The umami of the miso and the fat of the butter actually do a good job of mimicking the flavors you would get from pecorino or parmigiano. Try it out. ”
— Ross R.
Comment

They also happen to make an incredibly delicious, noodle-coating sauce that does a very fine impression of a creamy, cheese-based one. And there’s a good chance they’re all waiting for you in your fridge and freezer now.

Photo by Julia Gartland

From here, Kim fiddled a bit further with the rest of the dish, morphing the black pepper into a more complex, three-pronged punch of black, white, and tingly Sichuan peppercorns, and replacing the dry Italian pasta with chewy fresh ramen noodles. Happily, these are getting easier to find in grocery stores (check in the refrigerated section near the tofu and miso), but I have to tell you: A package of cheap, dry ramen is also very good here.

Every last one of these elements can (and may already) live in your kitchen, ready to spring into action for a last-ditch dinner for you, for the family, or for a phalanx of hungry guests. All without sharpened skills or focus, the ingredients carrying you through.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to the great Brette Warshaw for this one!

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15 Comments

Fred R. November 4, 2018
If Cacio e Pepe is too involved, try making Pepe: boil pasta and sprinkle with black pepper. You can do it.
 
Zorayda N. November 1, 2018
Well you can call it a Korean Cacio e Pepe or an Asian Cacio e Pepe since Asians don’t cook with cheese with the exception of Korea more recently adding cheddar cheese or processed cheese to dishes like sizzling bulgogi. This is a brilliant dish because you can copycat the look of Cacio e Pepe in a unique and yummy way. Americans do it all the time with Italian and Mexican food.
 
noms November 2, 2018
Japan uses cheese in various yoshoku (western-style) dishes like gratins or dorias.
 
Channon C. November 1, 2018
Okay. I tried with just Sichuan pepper. Whoop!! Whoop!! Don’t try on small children: they will like it more than than your critics over 30.
 
[email protected] October 31, 2018
i avoid cheese. this recipe looks easy to tweak further to create a totally plant-based version (with homemade vegan "butter" and veg stock). thanks for a good idea.
 
Alex November 1, 2018
Made it last night with Miyoko’s vegan butter. So delicious, and my mouth got that nice numbing sensation from the Sichuan peppers. ❤️
 
Diana G. October 31, 2018
don't mess with the classics! call it what it is!
 
Ross R. October 31, 2018
Really disappointed to see all the negative comments here. I’ve made this many times over the years after seeing the recipe in a Lucky Peach magazine. It’s delicious! Despite the comments about it bearing no resemblance to true cacio e pepe, it does. The umami of the miso and the fat of the butter actually do a good job of mimicking the flavors you would get from pecorino or parmigiano. Try it out.
 
Victoria C. October 31, 2018
This sounds interesting, but it isn’t cacio e pepe. Personally, I would skip this and go with Nigella’s Spaghetti with Marmite if I didn’t want to make the real thing.
 
kyurman October 31, 2018
I have to agree with Francesca M. This sounds tasty, but has nothing to do with cheese. <br /><br /> SmittenKitchen recently posted a foolproof recipe for Cacio e pepe and I've made it twice now with great success. It really works! https://smittenkitchen.com/2018/09/foolproof-cacio-e-pepe/
 
Victoria S. October 31, 2018
Both recipes sound great and will try them. Not a food “purist” so ramen noodles works for me!
 
Liane October 31, 2018
I will try this because the flavors all sound great, but also think that the name is inapt. Cheap ramen noodles are a total no go, however. The ingredient lists tell you all you need to know. I will upgrade instead of making chemical stew. If you want a delicious, very easy and pure Cacio e Pepe recipe, try Smitten Kitchen's food processor / immersion blender three ingredient -- cheese, pepper, pasta -- version. Make it a little ahead of time to come to room temp; dress the piping hot pasta with it, and add a little hot pasta water if necessary.
 
Thomas November 1, 2018
I’m confused. How is miso more chemical than Parmesan? The other ingredients in the recipe are the same.
 
Liane November 1, 2018
Ramen noodles are the issues -- not miso or pecorino. Italian pasta has two or three ingredients top, all natural. Check out some ramen noodles packages. You can get good ones, but you have to search. Sorry if my paragraph failed to convey the issue.
 
Francesca M. October 31, 2018
A nice enough dish, but bears no relation to the real thing. why not call it something else?