Cacio e pepe literally means “cheese and pepper.” In its most classic form, the Roman dish is made with spaghetti-style noodles tossed with a bit of pasta water, freshly ground black pepper, and grated Pecorino Romano. Never content to let dishes be static, chefs are adding flair and flavors to the Italian favorite. Here are seven riffs on cacio e pepe worthy of twirling your fork around.
Tessa, New York, New York
Executive chef Eric Cope’s Tessa Linguini is not your average cacio e pepe. He lavishes strands of pasta with Tasmanian pepper, lemon juice, and a beguiling Parmigiano-basil crunch. A tangle of noodles is laid down in the center of the bowl, buttressed on both sides by Parmigiano foam. Make a reservation at Tessa.
Birch & Barley, Washington, D.C.
Chef Bill Williamson is ramping up his spring menu. After smoking bucatini with apple wood chips, he quick sautés them with butter, black pepper, Pecorino cheese, and sautéed ramps. The dish is finished off with showers of black pepper, more Pecorino, and toasted panko. Make a reservation at Birch & Barley.
Momofuku Nishi, New York, New York
There is no cheese in the Ceci e Pepe – “chickpeas and pepper” (aka Buttered Noodles) Instead, a miso made from fermented chickpeas is substituted in to evoke the umami tones of aged Pecorino and add a sweeter undertone. A most clever homage. [Ed. note: And one of my favorite dishes ever.] Make a reservation at Momofuku Nishi.
Lupo Verde, Washington, D.C.
A tangle of tonnarelli – otherwise known as spaghetti alla chitarra – gets gussied up with a taste of terra firma and deep blue delicacies. Orange tongues of uni and crackly bits of puffed pork skin side astride the noodles. A blizzard of shredded Pecorino Romano finishes the dish. Make a reservation at Lupo Verde.
Monteverde, Chicago, Illinois
Rather than using pasta water, chef Sarah Grueneberg uses ricotta whey in her Cacio Whey Pepe. This helps cut down on a food waste. More importantly, the milky leftover liquid emulsifies the sauce, while ensuring the Pecorino Romano and blend of four peppercorns binds to the bucatini. Make a reservation at Monteverde.