3 Creative Spins on Cacio e Pepe

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Cacio e pepe — a classic Roman dish that translates to “cheese and pepper” — is arguably one of the simplest recipes in the Italian canon. The combination of pecorino cheese and ground black pepper makes a simple yet irresistible creamy pan sauce ideal for coating pasta. The flavor profile has caught the attention of chefs stateside, and some are taking it way beyond the noodle.

Cacio e Pepe Fritelle at Lilia, Brooklyn

Chef Missy Robbins’ hand-cut pastas are reason enough to snag a seat at her new Brooklyn hot spot, Lilia. But don’t skip past the bar snacks section of the menu, where you’ll find Cacio e Pepe Fritelle. Fritelle are typically sweet fried doughnuts, but Robbins gives them a savory spin by taking a traditional pate a choux dough, folding in her favorite imported pecorino, aged Asiago and black pepper, then dropping rounded spoonfuls of batter into the fryer. They’re one of the restaurant’s most-popular dishes: The fritters’ crisp exterior gives way to an airy, cheesy interior, creating an irresistible bite tailor-made for pairing with a pre-dinner cocktail, like a Negroni or an Aperol Spritz. They come three to an order, so plan accordingly.

Cacio e Pepe Risotto at Mucca Osteria, Portland, Ore.

Mucca Osteria’s menu might read like a roster of Italian stalwarts, but the Cacio e Pepe Risotto strays from the ordinary. Chef-Owner Simone Savaiano starts with a classic risotto preparation, cooking Carnaroli rice in chicken stock and folding in imported Sardinian Pecorino Romano, and then builds complexity in the final stages.

The dish is finished with homemade vegetable stock that’s been simmered overnight with Parmigiano Reggiano, along with a generous pat of the concentrated Parmesan broth. As for the pepper component, once the risotto reaches its velvety consistency, Savaiano adds a generous grind of Kampot pepper (a rare delicate Cambodian red pepper) and a dusting of sweet-mild long-grain pepper from Napa, then caps it off with Parmesan foam and a Parmesan crisp. The risotto offering changes seasonally, but the peppery preparation will be available through summer.

Cacio e Pepe Scrambled Eggs at Davanti Enoteca, Chicago

For cacio e pepe lovers who don’t want to wait until dinner for their fix, Cacio e Pepe Scrambled Eggs await. As an ode to his favorite pasta dish, Chef Daniel Harris toasts black pepper in olive oil to develop a more pronounced flavor, softly scrambles eggs until light and fluffy, then folds in Pecorino Romano. The ethereal eggs are plated atop a slab of toast, drizzled with olive oil and topped with more of the pecorino.

Photos courtesy of Evan Sung, Mucca Osteria, Davanti Enoteca