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Cacio e Pepe
The recipe calls for pasta, cheese, butter, pepper, and salt – and that’s it! It all comes together quickly with vigorous stirring and a close eye on the sauce. According to chef Chris Borges of Josephine Estelle in New Orleans (this is the restaurant’s signature dish), there is no secret at all to this dish…it’s a technique-driven dish, albeit a technique that’s easy to master. It all starts with the cheese. With only five ingredients, including salt, this is a dish in which mediocre quality ingredients will have nowhere to hide. According to Chef Borges, spring for the good stuff, particularly when it comes to the star of the dish: Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Serves 6 as an appetizer or 4 as a main course.
Recipe courtesy of chef Chris Borges and tested by Wine Spectator’s Julie Harans
1-1/4 pounds high-quality Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, at room temperature
1 pound dried canestri or lumache pasta (or shells, bowties or another short pasta shape)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
How To Make
Cut the room-temperature Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano into large chunks, discarding the rinds, and grind in a food processor until finely ground. Measure out 3 cups and set aside. Reserve any additional ground cheese in the refrigerator for another purpose.
Bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 1 minute before the stated time in the package directions. Ladle 3 cups cooking liquid into a bowl and reserve. Drain the pasta. Do not reserve the pasta water early; wait until the pasta is ready, as it will ensure maximum starchiness in the water, which is what will ultimately stabilize the emulsification of the cheese and butter.
Set a heavy, dry skillet large enough to fit all of the pasta over medium heat. Add the black pepper. Toss the pan frequently, until pepper is toasted, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. You will know the pepper is sufficiently toasted when the aroma fills your kitchen. Watch out for the sneezes!
Add 5 tablespoons butter and let melt, swirling the pan occasionally and keeping a close eye on it. Working fast, so as not to burn the melted butter, add 2 1/2 cups reserved pasta water to the skillet, taking care not to splatter yourself with the hot liquid, and bring to a rapid simmer. Cook until reduced by almost half, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Add the pasta to the skillet, stirring to combine, and cook for the remaining 1 minute stated by the package directions. Reduce heat to very low and quickly add remaining 5 tablespoons butter and all of the cheese, stirring and tossing vigorously with a spoon or tongs until the cheese is melted. Remove the pan from the heat and continue tossing until the sauce is smooth and emulsified, coating the pasta. Add some of the remaining 1/2 cup pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the sauce seems dry.