Food & Drink

Classic Cacio e Pepe is so much more than cheese and pepper

Adding roasted mushrooms to the classic Cacio E Peppo makes it a heartier plate.
Adding roasted mushrooms to the classic Cacio E Peppo makes it a heartier plate. Susan Selasky/Detroit Free Press/TNS

For a quick meal with a comfort food feel, you can’t beat most pasta dishes. But Cacio e Pepe is not just any pasta dish. While it’s one of the most basic, traditionally made with just four ingredients, it’s one to master.

Cacio e Pepe is a Roman pasta dish and the name translates to cheese and pepper – two of its key ingredients. The black pepper should be freshly ground and there should be a good amount of it. Use at least a tablespoonful of pepper. Typically, the cheese used is grated Pecorino Romano, a hard sheep’s milk cheese. The cheese becomes the sauce for the pasta with the help of a good ladleful of hot pasta cooking water to melt it. Adding butter or cream is considered taboo, but many recipes, including today’s adaption, use it.

I got this version of the dish when I saw Tim Love demonstrate it on the “Today” show. Love is a chef and restaurateur with restaurants in several states, but his flagship is Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth.

Love upped the ante of a traditional Cacio e Pepe with roasted maitake (also called hen of the woods) mushrooms. I couldn’t find them, so I quartered and roasted cremini mushrooms. For a spicy bite, crushed red pepper is added to the mushrooms. It adds a kick to the dish that sneaks up on you.

Tested by Susan Selasky for the Free Press Test Kitchen.


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Cacio E Pepe With Roasted Mushrooms

Adapted from Don’t crowd mushrooms on the baking sheet. Spread them out so they get nice and crisp.

1 pound maitake (hen-of-the-woods) mushrooms or cremini mushrooms

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes or to taste

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

13 to 16 ounces tagliatelle pasta

8 ounces Parmesan, finely grated

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

To prepare the mushrooms, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a sided baking sheet with parchment paper. Break the maitake mushroom bunches in half and arrange in single layer on the baking sheet. If using cremini mushrooms, quarter them. Sprinkle the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper over the mushrooms.

Roast for 20 minutes or until the mushrooms are slightly crispy on the edges and cooked through.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente.

Finely grate the Parmesan cheese into a large mixing bowl. Add the pepper and butter to the bowl.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the cooked pasta to the bowl and drizzle with water, stirring, until the sauce reaches your desired thickness.

Top the pasta with the roasted mushrooms and additional Parmesan cheese and serve.

Yield: 4 servings.