my favourite foods, the ones i deem life changing, are always the most simple: bread and butter, pasta aglio e olio, and cacio e pepe. the foods that were made for farmers using ingredients that were on hand and nothing more. cacio e pepe is my favourite pasta ever. it’s above ricotta filled ravioli, and basil pesto, second and third, respectively. one of my favourite memories to recall when i want to take a second to day dream, is eating life changing cacio e pepe in rome. we arrived in rome by train from venice around 1pm, and after googling the airbnb we were staying at decided it seemed close and would be a nice walk after sitting in a stuffy train for 5 hours. turns out it was 30 minutes down a steep cobblestone road with no shade on either side of the street. we were sweating balls, since it was a balmy 45 degrees, i was getting blisters in shoes i’ve worn a million times because my feet were so swollen from the heat, and i was STARVING. we finally made it to the airbnb, freshened up, and decided we were too tired to do any research into the restaurants in the area and would take a walk and pop into the first place we saw. i was in full fledged hangry mode at this point, so it was lucky that just a few minutes from the apartment, we came across a random restaurant with big, shaded in patio. it looked closed, as most restaurants in italy do in late afternoon, but they sat us anyway and i was unknowingly about to have my favourite meal of my entire life.
we were the only ones on the patio aside from a group of older men playing cards and smoking cigarettes, their wives coming and going from inside the restaurant, dressed so modestly chic, not at all bothered by the heat. the waitress was friends with all of them, hanging out and laughing in between folding napkins and occasionally looking over to check on us, the tourists. she advised us that since the kitchen was basically closed until dinner, we could only order pasta. i ordered the cacio e pepe and i don’t remember what my boyfriend ordered because as soon as it arrived, my life was changed. thick pici noodles came perfectly al dente (the italian al-dente which is a little firmer than we are used to here, and my preference), coated in a creamy, peppery cheese sauce and topped with plenty more grated parm and black pepper. salty, creamy, cheesy, comforting; the whole world melted away and it was just this perfect pasta and i. i don’t think i said a word or even acknowledged anything else until i was finished, full and content and close to the happiest i’ve ever been in my life.
i’ve been thinking more and more about that cacio e pepe day since i’m planning my next trip to italy, and going through mad cravings. i’ve also been obsessed with crispy roasted brussels sprouts for the last while. we all know essentially everything i make comes from cravings, so i decided to put the two together. the proper way of making cacio e pepe is by melting butter, adding starchy pasta water, and then whisking to form a sauce. since i don’t have any starchy pasta water, i’m cheating a bit and not making a sauce so much as just tossing everything together. the result isn’t as creamy as traditional cacio e pepe but just as divine. the brussels sprouts get roasted in the oven until sweet and crispy then tossed in salty grana pandano, butter and black pepper for the most addictive side dish ever – delicious enough to tide me over until i make pici by hand. the best part is, even though they’re smothered in half a cup of cheese, i can still say that i’m eating my veggies!
cacio e pepe brussels sprouts
about a pound of brussels sprouts, washed
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup finely grated grana pandano
lots of fresh black pepper
preheat your oven to 400 degrees. cut your sprouts in half, and remove the a few layers of leaves from the sprouts, and add to a large bowl. these leaves will get crispy and delicious. toss with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.
roast for about 25 minutes, until leaves are brown and crispy, and remaining halves are tender-crisp. add the roasted sprouts back to the original bowl you used, drizzle with butter, sprinkle with cheese and pepper, and toss.
add to serving dish and top with more cheese (of course). enjoy!