In an effort to share more of our very most every day meals, the ones I throw together with whatever’s left in the fridge, or the staples I can make with my eyes half closed at the end of a long day, I’ve started posting occasional short, simple posts just about these meals. I call it vær så god, Norwegian for “bon appetit.”
There are few things more useful than an easy but delicious pasta recipe to have in your back pocket when you are strapped for time and ingredients, but tummies are growling and dinner needs to get made pronto. Cacio e pepe is one of the very best recipes to suit just such a situation.
Cacio e pepe translates to cheese and pepper, and beyond pasta, that’s practically all you really need. You toast your coarsely ground black pepper (a ton of it!) until it is absurdly fragrant and floral, then melt in some butter and oil. In the meantime you put a pot of pasta on to boil and steal a cup of the pasta water when it has gotten nice and starchy.
Normally cacio e pepe is made with a thin pasta like spaghetti or buccatini, but I’ve become taken with fazzoletti, aka pasta handkerchiefs. They’re incredibly easy to make yourself (I like this recipe), which we like to do, and barely make your dinner any less of a weeknight pantry clean-out than it would have been if you used dried pasta. Of course, you can also break apart sheets of lasagne noodles to get the same effect, or you can just use spaghetti.
The pasta and pasta water get mixed with the pepper and a generous amount of cheese, merging into a sauce both rich and lively. And you’re ready to go! This week I added sauteed asparagus pieces to round out the meal because, hey! it’s asparagus season. I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to have asparagus at least 2 out of 3 meals a day for the duration.
Cacio pepe isn’t exactly a healthy meal, but it’s wholesome in its own way. It’s basically a glorified version of that cornerstone of the picky child’s diet, pasta with butter and cheese. But, this is pasta with butter and cheese that has gone on a Roman holiday and come back exceptionally refined. Well coiffed, designer shoes and handbag, the works. It’s sophisticated but simple, and what more could you really want on a Wednesday evening when you’re really hungry?
Vær så god!
- 1 bunch asparagus, washed, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- a couple of anchovies, chopped - optional
- 1 lb. fresh pasta handkerchiefs, or dried lasagne noodles broken into squares
- 2-3 Tbs. coarsely ground black pepper (adjust the amount depending on how potent you like your food!)
- 2 Tbs. butter
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- about 1½ cups grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano (plus more to taste)
- First saute your asparagus in a large frying pan. Heat the 1 Tbs. oil until it is shimmering, then add the minced garlic, and throw the anchovies in there if you're using them. Cook until starting to turn golden, just a minute or two. Then, add the asparagus and a pinch of salt and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the asparagus is tender, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer the asparagus to a serving bowl. Wipe out the pan and return it to the stove.
- Put a pot of water on to boil. Heat the frying pan to medium and add the ground black pepper. Toast the pepper until it starts to smell intensely fragrant, a minute or two, then stir in the butter and olive oil until the butter melt. Take off the heat and set aside.
- When the water is boiling, add your pasta and cook just until al dente. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta.
- Return the big frying pan with the pepper to the stove over low heat. Add the pasta and ½ cup of pasta water and stir. Then, gently toss in the cheese, stirring and tossing until the cheese melts and covers the pasta pretty evenly. Add extra pasta water as needed to make the pasta saucy. Taste and add salt to taste.
- Toss the pasta with the asparagus in the serving bowl, sprinkle with extra grated cheese to taste, and serve.