I Beg You to Do Something Besides Cacio E Pepe
Allow me, if you like, a moment of culinary pettiness. While I am almost always a proponent of cooking what you like, what you have and what is easier, I am very sick of seeing the culinary media force cacio e pepe on people over and over again. (If you are in the habit of reading tons of grocery sites, you may have noticed the predominance of this paste, but I may be very sensitive to this sort of thing.) I’d like to blame my grumpy “state of affairs”, but I was grumpy about of this pasta from February when I saw an article that said it was “the sexiest dish you could make for your Valentine.”
It is, of course, wonderful pasta – cheese and pepper – good filling! – but it’s not sexy, it’s not my favorite “light paste”, and it’s not even that simple. Pecorino Romano is prone to clumping, and while there are ways to get around this , I’ve seen many home chefs get frustrated with this supposedly simple dish.
If you only have pecorino and peppers, then great, please make cacio e pepe, but it’s not the easiest pasta as many say. There are few, if not many, simpler pastas. And they also have the advantage of being romance-like because they weren’t killed to death.
For example, Alison Roman Pasta with Shallots
If there is any pasta that deserves hype and virality, this is this one. Made entirely from cheap, shelf stable ingredients, it makes you feel confident in your culinary skills. I finally did it last night and yes, it is as good as everyone says, although you must love anchovies. The hardest aspect of this dish is chopping the shallots, but you get the pasta in two batches of the same recipe and the result is something so silky and so aromatic that you feel like a real chef. This is a great pasta if you want to break out of the marinara routine and get out of it with confidence in your culinary skills, rather than discouragement (due to lumpy cheese). (Also, if you don’t have that many shallots, know that I added the onions and they were still very good. If you do, add an extra clove of garlic.)
You can make anything creamy and dairy-free
Many people think that cream or cheese is the secret to a rich, creamy paste, but this is not the case. This is starchy paste water. This, emulsified with some kind of fat, gives you the sumptuous creamy noodle-topping sauce you crave so much without any dairy. If you’re worried that your water isn’t starchy enough, you can pump it up by tossing some semolina into the pot. All you need for a full meal other than pasta and water is fatty pork. (Use pork for breakfast and sprinkle with egg for pasta for breakfast ):
To make this dairy-free meal (for two very hungry people) you will need:
- 8 ounces of fatty pork, such as pancetta, bacon, or sausage
- 8 ounces dried pasta, any kind will do
- 3 liters of slightly salted water
- 1/2 cup semolina flour
- Fresh pepper
In a large stainless steel saucepan, cook the salty pork product over medium to low heat until the fat is melted and crispy. (Start cooking the pork a couple of minutes before the pasta; you can always remove it from the heat if you’re worried about it burning.) While it’s cooking, bring the water to a boil and add the flour and pasta.
Once the pork is crispy and the pasta is slightly less al dente, pour a cup of very starchy water into a pot of pancetta, bacon and / or sausage and scrape off any tasty burnt nuggets. Pull the pasta out of the pan using tongs and toss it into the sauce until it is perfectly al dente and covered in a thick, glossy sauce.
Also, have you heard of carbonar?
Pasta carbonara was the first pasta I learned to cook and the last meal I cooked for my grandfather before he died. (He loved it! Hailing from the northern Mississippi, the only pasta he ever tasted was what he called “Italian spaghetti,” which wasn’t very Italian.)
Anyway. I haven’t made much money since then, but something (probably the presence of eggs and bacon) made me do it the night before. Many recipes use whole eggs, but I usually only use yolks, which may be unsuitable or “real” but very tasty. (Also, if you don’t like this interpretation of “all yolks,” I’m sure you’ll find something that works with a search engine.) Use guanchiale (jawed bacon) if you can find it, but pancetta or regular bacon is also fit. … To make it you will need:
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 5 ounces bacon, guanciale, or pancetta
- 3 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus more to finish
- Fresh pepper
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti according to the package directions. Chop the pork into lard and place in a cold skillet , then cook over medium heat to slowly drain out. While all this is happening, combine the yolks and parma, rub with pepper and set aside.
When the pasta is al dente, leave half a glass of water for the pasta, then drain. Add the pasta to the bacon skillet and stir to coat the noodles (about two minutes). Remove the skillet from the heat, whisk the cheese and yolk mixture completely, then add it to the pasta skillet, stirring continuously until a layer is covered. If necessary, add a little water to make the pasta run thin and sprinkle with more fresh pepper to serve.
Then there’s my dirty sack pasta
My feelings for the Better Than Bouillon product line are well documented. I love them and think they can be great bombs for pasta in the pantry, for cleaning pasta in the refrigerator, or even for a cacio e pepe trash bag if needed. You can use any flavoring, but my favorites are mushrooms, fried garlic, and lobster. In terms of additives, this is a great remedy for leftover roasted vegetables, frozen peas, capers, chopped grilled chicken, or any sautéed onions you want to sauté.
To make your own buffet pasta, you will need:
- 1 pound dried pasta
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon (any flavor)
- Anything you need to use up in the refrigerator or pantry.
Prepare the pasta according to the directions on the package, but leave 1 cup of pasta water for draining before draining. Drain off remaining water while reducing heat to medium, add butter and BTB to pot of hot paste and stir until butter melts and paste is completely mixed with butter. Return the noodles to the saucepan and stir with tongs to coat, top with water if necessary to create a silky sauce. Mix any other add-ons you want and enjoy.
Enjoy other Italian classics
I don’t have specific recipes for them because there are literally hundreds (maybe thousands?) Of them in cookbooks and on the internet, but spaghetti aglio and olio, spaghetti al lemon and even the (slightly more convoluted) spaghetti puttanesca are all pastes. that do not require a lot of effort and require a small amount of ingredients. A quick google search will return many results, so pick one and give it a try.
All of this being said (woven), make a cacio e pepe if that’s what makes you truly happy, but I implore you to try a new one from time to time, just for fun. Learning new things is fun and you can always add a lot of pecorino if you miss.