These halloumi sandwiches have grilled bell peppers, zucchini, and halloumi with zesty herb sauce and a seedy bun. They make for a delicious, simple, summery dinner!Continue reading “Halloumi Sandwiches with Veggies & Herb Sauce”
CHEESY, PEPPERY, AND PERFECTLY AL DENTE CACIO E PEPE WITH FRIED SHALLOTS.
So far this week, I have done enough squats for my legs to turn into jelly, planned (but not yet planted) a small front-porch garden, and made a Sunday dinner consisting of leftover Easter brunch cinnamon rolls and chicken with brown rice and veggies. I even *meal prepped* and took a two-hour nap which, for me, is unheard of. The line between productivity and self-annihilation is thin, but it is one I’m willing to ride out.
Anyways, I know it’s important to stay healthy right now, so we’ve been eating lots of veggies and working out every (week)day. But sometimes, things still feel a bit overwhelming, yes? And we must indulge ourselves with self-care and comfort food akin to mac and cheese! And that, my friends, is when we put on cashmere drawstring sweatpants and make cacio e pepe!
What is cacio e pepe?
Cacio e pepe is a Roman pasta dish that literally translates to “cheese and pepper”, a.k.a. two perfect ingredients. It’s made up with only the most basic pantry staples: pasta, black pepper, and Pecorino Romano cheese, and it’s pronounced “ka-chee-oh eh peh-peh” (which borderline reminds me of Lightning McQueen, but let’s not go there). Think of it as adult mac and cheese, but without all the fancy stuff that comes in “adult” mac and cheese recipes, like gruyere or prosciutto or spring peas. It really is the most basic of dishes but it’s a dream of a comfort food. And in this version, we take it up a notch with fried shallots. Because tbh, there’s really never a bad time for fried onions. 🙂
Cacio e pepe ingredients
I really can’t think of a recipe with more basic ingredients, but in this version, we’re getting a little *fancy* with fried shallots! However, this only requires two extra ingredients, so we’re really keeping it simple here. Pantry pasta forever. <3
- Shallots: Go for two large or three small! Sometimes, I make extra just to have around.
- Neutral Oil: You’ll want something neutral for frying like vegetable or canola oil. I usually go with canola!
- Pasta: You’re going to want a long pasta here. I believe that bucatini is the most traditional, but I usually use regular spaghetti since I always have it around!
- Freshly Cracked Black Pepper: The freshly-cracked part is important. The fresher the pepper, the more flavorful your pasta will be!
- Pecorino Romano/Parmesan: Some people swear Pecorino Romano is the only way, but I’m fine with Parmesan, and I think you should be too! Use what you have or what’s available to you.
- Salt: For flavoring the pasta water!
Let’s make fried shallots!
I know, frying, ugh. I can undoubtedly tell you that I usually hate frying. But, shallots are the exception, because they are sooo easy and not messy! Plus, the leftover oil is actually useful and doesn’t need to be thrown away immediately.
To fry shallots, I use the Bon Appetit method! You start by thinly cutting a few peeled large shallots. The best way to do this is with a mandolin, but I don’t like washing a mandolin over two shallots, so I just do it by hand. 🤷 You just want them to be about as thin as a dime! Next, place them in a pan, and fill the pan with just enough canola/vegetable oil to cover the shallots (about 1/3 cup).
Set the heat to medium-low, and cook until the shallots are deep golden-brown about 20 minutes. Stir often with the tines of a fork to separate the shallots! (Pro tip: Keep an eye on these, especially towards the end! Once they start browning, they will brown quick). Drain the fried shallots through a fine-mesh strainer (reserve the oil!) and place on a paper towel to mop up any extra grease. Season with salt and let cool! Store in an airtight container for up to three days.
How to make Cacio E pepe with fried shallots!
While you are frying your shallots, you will want to start your pasta! Fill a large pot with water and add a few heavy pinches of salt. Cook your pasta for one minute less than the package directions recommend. (We will continue cooking the pasta in the sauce later). Before you drain the spaghetti, make sure to save at least one and a half cups of the cooking liquid which will make up our sauce!
After draining your pasta, dry the pot, and return it to the stove. Heat three tablespoons of the leftover shallot frying oil over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of freshly cracked pepper (about 50 turns) to oil, and cook to bloom the flavor, about one minute. Stir in half a cup of the leftover pasta water until everything is combined. Add the pasta, and coat well with the sauce, stirring until perfectly al dente. Add more pasta water as necessary until the cacio e pepe is perfectly saucy.
Remove the pasta from the heat, and quickly stir in the Pecorino Romano/Parmesan until you have a smooth, silky sauce. Taste, season with salt, and divide between four bowls. Top with fried shallots and enjoy!
Parmesan or pecorino Romano?
Traditionally, Pecorino Romano cheese is used in cacio e pepe. But, I’m all about accessibility and not every store has the cheese aisle of a French market. If you can’t find Pecorino Romano, just use some grated Parmesan! P.S. of course freshly grated is always better than pre-grated. But I don’t like shredding cheese, and if you don’t either, let’s just use pre-grated and not feel bad about it, ok?
How do I know when spaghetti is al dente?
Pasta is al dente when it has just a tiny bite to it. It will not be mushy or crunchy, and the center will have a slight white core. Package directions are not always clear, so it’s important to try your pasta to make sure it’s perfectly al dente!
You need to use freshly cracked black pepper, trust
Ok, I know this seems fussy, but it’s v important for cacio e pepe! When pre-ground black pepper (or any herb for that matter) sits around exposed to air, it rapidly loses flavor over time. But, when we use freshly ground black pepper, it isn’t exposed for the air for too long before we start cooking with it. This will lead to bright, aromatic, spicy flavors, not dull and boring nothing-ness.
cacio e pepe is great with all kinds of pasta
Bucatini is the most common pasta used in cacio e pepe, but it’s not the only option! Usually, I use spaghetti because it’s what I can find in the grocery store. While long, thin pastas work best with the cheese and pepper sauce, there are a few other types of pastas you can use! Besides bucatini or spaghetti, I would also recommend:
- Fettuccine: A flat, long pasta
- Pappardelle: A very thick, long pasta. One of my faves!
- Linguine: A little thicker than spaghetti but not as thick as fettuccine.
- Stuffed pastas: Tortellini, ravioli, etc.
Unfortunately, tubed pastas such as penne or rigatoni don’t work great, because they don’t hold on to the sauce quite as well.
pasta water vs. regular water
The reason we use pasta water to bring everything together is the starch! The salts and starches in the water not only adds flavor, but it also binds the oil, pepper, and cheese to the pasta so you get a smooth, silky sauce! If you use regular water, you’ll just end up with a puddle of water at the bottom of the pot instead of a sauce.
Butter or shallot oil?
A lot of recipes call for butter in the sauce, because butter is just straight-up delicious. However, I like to use the reserved shallot oil, because 1. it’s adds soooo much good flavor, and 2. less waste. You will probably have more shallot oil leftover after this recipe, so just store it in a jar and use it for other sauces, stir fries, and salad dressings in the future!
Storing Cacio E Pepe
Cacio e pepe is really one of those dishes that is just better day-of. The pasta will dry out a little bit once you put it in the fridge. It’s not necessarily bad, just not as good as fresh cacio e pepe! If you refrigerate the leftover pasta, just keep it in an airtight container, and add a small splash of water before you microwave the pasta. Stir well, top with leftover fried shallots, and enjoy! Definitely don’t store the cacio e pepe with the fried shallots in the fridge, or the shallots will get soggy!
How to serve cacio e pepe
Cacio e pepe is honestly good on its own, but if you’re like me, a veggie or side completes a meal! Here are a few things we like:
- An arugula salad with a simple vinaigrette
- Roasted broccoli or green beans
- Grilled asparagus or zucchini
- Caprese salad
- Melon with prosciutto!
- Garlic bread (duh)
Cacio e pepe ad-ins
If you want to take cacio e pepe up a notch, you can always add:
- A couple handfuls of arugula or spinach (let it wilt before serving)
- Fresh spring peas!
- A few cloves garlic
- Cooked chicken, bacon, or prosciutto
- A squeeze of lemon!
- Fresh herbs. I like a little fresh parsley once in a while.
A few tips!
Cacio e pepe is a pretty simple dish, but there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure it’s perfect!
- When boiling the pasta, make sure not to use too much water! We want the pasta to cook in a small amount of water so it gets very starchy and flavorful.
- Reserve some of the pasta water right before you drain to make sure it’s nice and starchy!
- Bloom the freshly ground pepper by cooking it in the oil for about a minute. This will bring out all of the amazing flavors!
- Remove the pasta from the heat before you add in the cheese, or it will get too hot and clump up.
- Add more pasta water as necessary to get a nice, silky sauce.
- Top with fried shallots right before serving so they don’t get soggy.
Some other italian dishes you’ll love!
cacio e pepe with fried shallots
Cacio e Pepe with Fried Shallots
- 2 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced (about as thick as a dime)
- 1/3 cup Canola oil (grapeseed or vegetable work too)
- Salt, to taste
Cacio e Pepe
- 8 oz spaghetti (or other long pasta)
- 3 tbsp reserved shallot oil or butter
- 1 1/4 tsp freshly-ground black pepper (about 50 turns)
- 2 1/2 oz grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan
- Salt, to taste
- Place the thinly sliced shallots in a pan, and fill the pan with just enough canola oil to cover the shallots (about 1/3 cup). Use a little more if you have to!
- Set the heat to medium-low, and cook until the shallots are deep golden-brown about 20-25 minutes. Stir often with the tines of a fork to separate the shallot rings! (Pro tip: Keep an eye on these, especially towards the end! Once they start browning, they will brown quick).
- Drain the shallots through a fine-mesh strainer, reserve the leftover oil, and place the fried shallots on a paper towel to mop up any extra grease. Season with salt and let cool. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.
Cacio e Pepe
- While the shallots are frying, fill a large pot with water and add a few heavy pinches of salt. Add your pasta, and cook for one minute less than the package directions recommend. (We will continue cooking the pasta in the sauce later). Before you drain the spaghetti, save at least one and a half cups of the cooking liquid which will make up our sauce.
- After draining your pasta, dry the pot, and return it to the stove. Heat three tablespoons of the leftover shallot frying oil (or butter) over medium heat. Add the freshly cracked pepper to the oil, and cook to bloom the flavor, about one minute.
- Stir in half a cup of the leftover pasta water until everything is combined. Add the pasta, and coat well with the sauce, stirring until perfectly al dente. Add more pasta water as necessary until the cacio e pepe is perfectly saucy.
- Remove the pasta from the heat, and quickly stir in the Pecorino Romano/Parmesan until you have a smooth, silky sauce. Taste, season with salt, and divide between four bowls. Top with fried shallots and enjoy!
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: He Loves Me by Brittany Howard
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Tempura fried cheese curds are my favorite happy-hour or game night snack! They’re lightly crunchy and perfect with spicy & garlicky Sriracha mayo.
I have a confession: I’m not a huge “pizza person”. And because of this, I get constant shit from every human on the planet, because apparently I am part of a small majority that doesn’t lose their mind over pizza. I, of course, love a good pizza when I am in the mood for it, but the rest of the time, I’ll happily choose tacos or Thai food instead. However, I do have a fave pizza place in Reno that makes me jalapeno + cheese pizza without judgement, and as a rule, this particular pizza must be eaten with a draft beer, absurd amounts of ranch, and the leftover crust must be dipped in honey.
(On a side note, do people in other parts of the world dip their crust in honey, or is that just a Reno thing???)
And while pizza is not my absolute favorite food, I do feel passionate about dough + cheese, and I’ve been loving experimenting with pizza flavors at home lately. On some Fridays, I will come home, pull out all the leftover ingredients from the week, chop up tons of fresh mozz, and pop a bottle of wine while the perfect combination of crust puffing and cheese bubbling occurs in my oven. I almost always go out for dinner on Fridays, but if for some reason I’m really in the mood to cook after work, it’s almost always some version of pizza. There’s something so calming about coming home, chopping up some veggies, and making a quick, delicious dinner.
And, if I really need pizza without the effort, I always have my trusty jalapeno-special ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Yesterday, we had probably our craziest snow of the season (yes, in late February, ugh come ooooon Reno). I was at my parents’ house after shopping with my mom, and this blizzard just started out of nowhere. It looked like a snow globe and made me need Christmas all over again. However, since I can’t redo Christmas, I went for the next best comforting winter activity which is obviously cooking and watching British TV. So, while the snow flurries drifted down outside my window, I threw together this recipe and cozied up on the couch watching Lovesick. These ingredients are a perfect mix of flavors – the kale gets so crispy and garlicky in the oven, sausage adds a little sweetness, there’s lemon for tartness, and of course, I added a simple bechamel and mozzarella for a creamy component. At the end, I like to add pine nuts to give it an earthy flavor (and also because I’m obsessed with pine nuts, they’re so good 😛). I like to sprinkle a ton of red pepper flakes on top of my pizza, but of course, you can leave those off if you don’t like spice! Lastly, the sauce is fairly creamy, especially when combined with the cheese. If you prefer a lighter, almost flatbread-style pizza, I would just brush the crust with olive oil and put the toppings on sans white sauce. In fact, it sounds rather amazing, and I think that will be my approach next time!
White Pizza with Sausage + Garlicky Kale + Lemon
Ingredients for the white sauce
1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. flour
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c. milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour, stirring until no clumps remain. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Slowly whisk in milk, bringing it to a boil and cooking for a couple of minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
Ingredients for the pizza
1 lb. pizza dough, store-bought or homemade
White sauce (recipe above)
2 links of sweet sausage, casings removed
2 c. kale, chopped
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz. fresh mozzarella, torn
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced and quartered
Red pepper flakes, to taste
2 Tbs. pine nuts
Preheat oven to 425* F. Roll out pizza dough to 1/8 inch thickness and place on a baking sheet. Brush with 1 Tbs. olive oil and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a pan over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until it is no longer pink. Meanwhile, toss the kale, remaining 1 Tbs. of olive oil, and garlic in a small bowl – set aside. Drain the sausage, and discard the fat. Set sausage aside.
Spread the white sauce over the pizza dough. Sprinkle sausage and mozzarella over the sauce. Spread the kale and lemon slices over the pizza. Season with red pepper flakes.
Place the pizza in the oven for 16-20 minutes. When finished, the crust should be golden brown, and the cheese should be bubbly.
When the pizza is cooked through, sprinkle the pine nuts over the top. Serve with additional pepper flakes and parmesan, if desired.
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day* – Big Sis by SALES
Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!! Today, my Canadian friend, Stephen, comes into town to experience
real American Thanksgiving, so to celebrate, here’s a classic Canadian recipe! If you read about my Canada trip, you know that I spent one late, post-beer night at Smoke’s Poutinerie, which I’ve been told is the classic around those parts. I ate “traditional” poutine, some drunk college kids told me I look like Bjork, and then we piled into an uber and I woke up with a gravy hangover the next day.
Tomorrow, I also plan on waking up with a gravy hangover although I’m hoping this gravy is topped over a mountain of mashed potatoes and cornbread stuffing. Yesterday I went to the liquor store after work, which was absolute utter madness, but I got some fancy gin, and I’m ready to party. I will be spending my weekend surrounded by 40+ people who share my DNA, and I have dubbed myself the official gin + tonic maker for the weekend.
When I asked in my Toronto post if it would be sacrilege to use tater tots instead of french fries in poutine, Stephen came back with a resounding “YES”. However, because I have no manners, and because deep frying foods in my own house is something I avoid like spiders and vacuuming, tater tots were the obvious choice. Plus, tater tots ♥
While we’re on the matter, would if be totally inappropriate for me to top mashed potatoes with gravy and cheese curds? Do you think Stephen would just totally leave the country and never come back??? Would mashed potatoes + gravy + cheese curds be delicious with gin + tonics? Or is that the gravy-hangover remedy?? If you have answers for these questions, pls let me know ASAP. There isn’t much time before I pick up the Canadian from the airport and the festivities begin.
Tater Tot Poutine
1 lb. tater tots (I eyeballed 1/2 of a 2 lb. bag)
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. flour
1 clove garlic, minced
1 c. beef broth
Salt & Pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 c. cheese curds
Parsley, for garnish
Heat oven to 450* F. Place the tater tots on a greased baking sheet making sure the tater tots don’t touch. Bake for 15-20 minutes, flip, and bake for another 10-15 minutes. You want them to be super crispy but not burned.
Meanwhile, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Whisk in beef broth, salt, pepper, onion powder, and thyme. Stir until thickened. Keep warm.
Drizzle gravy over tater tots. Top with cheese curds, and broil it in the oven until the curds are slightly melted. Top with parsley, if desired.
Serve immediately. Extra gravy optional, beer required.
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: Cosmic Sass by Good Morning