Cacio e pepe translates from Italian to “cheese and pepper” or “want intensely to eat this.”
If there’s a dish that chefs make for themselves, it’s cacio e pepe. Pronounced “catch-ee-oh ee peh-pay,” the name literally translates to “cheese and pepper,” which is about the measure of the recipe. A sophisticated ancestor of today’s mac ‘n’ cheese, this meal is more technique than ingredients (the full recipe can be found at the bottom of this blog).
Speaking of chefs, if you’ve heard of Eventide, Hugo’s, or Honey Paw in Portland, Maine, you know about chef Mike Wiley. Mike is co-head chef—with Andrew Taylor—of all three restaurants. And on a blustery, late-winter day he agreed to take a small group of Allagashians into his kitchen and showed us some culinary tricks.
Cool guys never look at (steam) explosions.
Longitudinally connecting all three restaurants, Mike’s kitchen is a unique space. Our group of five had little professional cooking experience between us, so we were legitimately impressed by industry staples like steam ovens, sous vide cookers, vacuum sealers, and even your average pasta machine. Like ducklings, we followed Mike through the kitchen, trying to keep out of the way of busy—but pleasant!—pastry chefs (prepping for the day’s work). Mike led us through multiple dishes: wok-seared brussels sprouts, homemade mayo, sous vide egg yolks with sriracha, shredded and fried potato bars, and a mean, yet incredibly simple, version of the Italian classic cacio e pepe.
Mike’s technique, teaching skills, and resulting dishes made it clear why he was up for the James Beard award for Best Chef Northeast. Coincidentally, Rob Tod, our founder, is also lucky enough to be up for a James Beard in wine/beer/spirits professional. Award digressions aside, the cacio e pepe was eaten quickly and in near-total silence. Absolutely delicious.
Extruding (there’s probably a more romantic word) our pasta for the cacio e pepe.
Newly made pasta, not long for this world.
If you’d like to make your own cacio e pepe, here’s a scaled up version of the recipe that Mike showed us, which should serve a couple people:
6 oz. pasta (such as egg tagliolini, bucatini, or spaghetti)
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
3/4 cup finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
1: Boil pasta until ¾ cooked. Reserve pasta water for later.
2: Melt butter in a different pot. Once melted, add cheese and pasta. Swirl on and off the heat, so as not to brown the butter.
3: If the butter and cheese are sticking too much, put a spoonful of pasta water into the pot and continue to swirl.
4: Once pasta is completely coated in the sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
5: Serve immediately.
A shot of the spoils from our escapades in the kitchen. Many thanks to Chef Mike for making it all possible and eminently edible.