There is something so comforting about a bowl of pasta with cheese. It can be in the form of mac and cheese, like my childhood favorite or my adult favorite, Cacio e Pepe. I am not Italian but I have studied a lot about Italy and it’s food.
It is not a surprise to me that as Americans, have taken some Italian classics and made them “Americanized” versions. I am all for interpretation of recipes and trying new things but calling it the same thing when it is a totally different recipe is confusing.
Americans think that Fettuccini Alfredo and Cacio e Pepe are pasta recipes that include a ton of cream. Those sauces are good, yet heavy, but they are not created in the spirit of their true Italian counterpart.
This recipe is made how Italians make it (according to my sources) and if I am wrong, I apologize but it is still a wonderful dish.
In February 2021 we had a snow/ice storm here in the Hill Country of Texas. We lost our power for 12 days. Texas is not built for more than a few days below zero weather so it was a disaster. We stayed in our house that maintained 50° because my husband was incredible and kept stoking the fire.
We are blessed that we have gas cooktop so I was able to keep us fed. I’m a firm believer and always having a well stocked pantry and this is one of the reasons why. The night before our power came back on I decided to make Cacio e Pepe. My son was at the house also so I decided to make a full pound worth of pasta.
As you see in the recipe below after the pasta is cooked you mix it with pasta water, butter and a lot of cheese. I mix it in a metal bowl that is resting above the simmering water to help keep the cheese loose. We did not have running water, so I rinsed the bowl when I was done with some “coolish” water from our tub. The next day when the power came back on one of the first things I did was load the dishwasher. It was the logical thing to do, right?
After we lost power, I noticed that our dishwasher just wasn’t getting things as clean as it should. I talked to my husband about it numerous times and he said he would check on it. One day when I was out running errands husband texted me simply “Cacio a Pepe”. I replied to him and asked “is that what you want for dinner?” Once again he texted me the simple phrase “Cacio e Pepe”.
I was very confused so I decided to just give him a call. Turns out that he was trying to fix the dishwasher when he discovered the problem. It was Cacio e Pepe.
The water that I had soaked the bowl in was not hot the little bits of cheese in this metal bowl congealed. When I stuck it in the dishwasher I just was trying to get everything through quickly and did not do a hot water rinse which I should have. The parmesan cheese had melted into the little holes in the sprayers and this is why my dishes were not getting cleaned.
He took apart the sprayers and cleaned them. There were still pieces of Parmesan melting outside of the sprayer. Because we kept taking it down and trying to clean it one time I did not install it back tightly enough. Of course it fell down during the wash cycle and fell onto the heating element. The sprayer once filled with parmesan cheese was no more.
I called our appliance store. Of course a replacement part was not available. They weren’t making them anymore. A dishwasher with no sprayer is useless. So we ordered a new dishwasher that took six long months to come in. I think my husband still wonders if I did it on purpose. I swear, I didn’t but I really do love my new dishwasher.
I hope my story will not deter you from giving this easy and comforting recipe a try. Just make sure you use really good dried pasta, from Italy if possible and make sure you throughly rinse your bowl!
Bring 4 qts of water to boil. Season it with salt. Add pasta and cook to until al dente (according to package instructions)
In a metal bowl place the cut up butter. Pour 3/4 cup of pasta water and stir to melt the butter. Place the pasta and stir in the cheeses. Keep stirring until pasta is coated. If you want to loosen up the sauce add more pasta water. Once it is the desired consistency. Add freshly ground black pepper and serve with extra cheese sprinkled on top if desired.