Cacio e Pepe with Fried Shallots

CHEESY, PEPPERY, AND PERFECTLY AL DENTE CACIO E PEPE WITH FRIED SHALLOTS.

An overhead view of three bowls of pasta on a grey table surrounded by a dark green linen, a glass of white wine, and a bowl of fried shallots.
A side shot of a white bowl of pasta on a grey background, surrounded by more bowls, a green linen, a bowl of fried onions, and a glass of wine.

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. ūüôā

An overhead picture of a jar of pasta, a bowl of parmesan, a pinch pot of salt, a plate of peppercorns, a bowl of parsley, a spaghetti spoon, and a few shallots on a grey background.

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!

An overhead photo of a black pan filled with shallots frying in oil on a grey speckled counter.

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. ūü§∑ 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!

A bird's eye photo of a pasta strainer filled with spaghetti on a grey speckled table.

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!

Overhead shot of a white pot filled with oil, fresh pepper, spaghetti, and parmesan.

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.

A close-up overhead shot of a bowl of cacio e pepe next to an emerald green linen, bowl of fried shallots, and a small wooden bowl of salt on a grey background.

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.
A side shot of a bowl of spaghetti with fried shallots on top, surrounded by a green linen, more bowls of pasta, fried shallots, and a glass of wine on a grey table.

Some other italian dishes you’ll love!

Marinated White Beans with Toast
Best Sicilian Pizza
Marc’s Meatball Subs
Lasagna Bolognese
London Fog Tiramisu with Lavender

cacio e pepe with fried shallots



xo Sara Lynn

*Song of the day: He Loves Me by Brittany Howard

Cacio e Pepe with Fried Shallots | Serendipity by Sara Lynn
Cacio e Pepe (literally "cheese and pepper) made with spaghetti, freshly-ground pepper, Pecorino Romano, and topped with homemade fried shallots.

(Crockpot) Light Zuppa Toscana

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I have been surprisingly social all weekend.  I went to a football game on Friday (we won!) (Go Wolfpack!) and then my roommates and I spent the rest of the night with Schofferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen and Cards Against Humanity.  If you have never played Cards Against Humanity, let’s just introduce you to their slogan : A party game for horrible people.

And that it is.

Just take a look at their website.  Or check out this and this.

I also spent my Saturday night bar hopping with one of my best friends/pseudo cousin.  Except that I had to drive home so my bar hopping experience was mostly just me getting leaned on by a bunch of drunk people.

Good times right?

The whole drinking and Cards Against Humanity thing ties together because:

1. Most of the time, if you’re playing Cards Against Humanity, you are simultaneously drinking.

And 2. When I told my roommate, “The only two games I know how to play are beer pong and Cards Against Humanity.  What does that say about me?”, his response was, “You’re an evil alcoholic.”

So there’s that.

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And now about Zuppa Toscana.  It is that delicious soup at Olive Garden with sausage, potatoes, and kale.  The broth is lightly creamy and a little spicy.

It is also 220 calories for a bowl of it at Olive Garden.  That doesn’t seem tooooo bad, until you consider that it has 15 g of fat and 990 mg of sodium in it.  And when you consider that you’re going to have another bowl of it.  And a glass (or two) of wine.  And probably some type of pasta.  And that salad, which also doesn’t seem too bad until you see that there are 150 calories, 10 g of fat, and 760 mg of sodium in it. Also, don’t forget that you’re going to eat like, 4 of those bread sticks (140 calories, 2.5 g fat, 460 mg sodium)

Holy shit, what is in this stuff?

Anyways, I definitely recreated the recipe and lightened it up quite a bit.  I calculated it all up and it was about 350 calories per serving.  The recipe serves 4, so you get quite a big serving of soup for less than 400 calories.  Also, you just throw it in a crockpot.  So easy guys.

Ahem.

*thunderous applause*

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*The recipe was originally from Fix it and Forget it, but has been changed dramatically*

Ingredients:

6 c. low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 c. whole milk or half and half

2 carrots, grated

3 russet potatoes, sliced

4 cups kale, chopped slightly

1 lb. turkey Italian sausage

Dash salt and pepper

Sprinkle of garlic powder

Sprinkle onion powder

1/4-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling

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Grate 2 carrots into your crockpot.

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Pour in chicken broth.

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And the whole milk/half and half.

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Slice up your potatoes.

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Add them to your broth.

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Brown the sausage.

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Add it to your broth.

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Sprinkle your spices!

Cook for 3-4 hours on high, stirring every once in a while.

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1 hour, I REPEAT, 1 HOUR before serving, stir in kale.  If you do it any earlier, it will be grossly soggy.  Do you want soggy kale?  Do you?!

No.  You really don’t.

Serve with a light homemade salad and some whole wheat rolls.  Sprinkle it with a little parm.

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Yum yum yum.  This is definitely going to be my fall favorite.

Bonus: It’s gluten free naturally!

It doesn’t taste exactly like the Olive Garden version, but it’s pretty damn close for a light version.  Sometime (when you feel really naughty) go ahead and use regular chicken broth, cream, and pork Italian sausage.  Or just go to Olive Garden and really go all out.  I’m normally not a fan of chains, but I still love Olive Garden every once in a while.

But just make this, okay?

XO Sara

Five Cheese Rigatoni

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I love pasta.

I absolutely love it.

Especially when it’s covered in rich, delicious cheese.

Today I had to have a little last minute surgery and anesthesia makes me crave meals like this. ¬†You know, after I get over the “oh-my-god-I’m-going-to-throw-up-and-also-I-feel-like-I’m-dying” feeling. ¬†If you’ve ever been on anesthesia and not reacted well, you probably have some kind of clue to what I’m sayin’. ¬†And if you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. ¬†You are not missing anything (I swear)!

But on the bright side, I’m feeling much better, doped up on Loritab, and am on my way to enjoying a nice big bowl of cheesy pasta in the very near future.

Life is great, isn’t it?

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Ingredients:

8 oz. rigatoni pasta

1/4 c. butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 c. whole milk

6 oz. cottage cheese

1 c. cheddar cheese, grated

1 c. mozzarella cheese, grated

1 c. Swiss cheese, grated

1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, grated + more for top

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. onion powder

Dash paprika

Dash ceyenne pepper

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 c. Panko bread crumbs

1 Tbs. butter, melted

Boil pasta according to directions until it is al dente (normally about 8-9 minutes).  Drain and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350* F.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and brown the garlic until fragrant in a medium sauce pan.  Add the flour until it forms a roux.  Stir in the milk and all five cheeses.  Allow the cheeses to melt (the cottage cheese will not melt, but will make it super creamy and delicious, trust me).

Add garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, ceyenne, salt, and pepper.  Stir well.  Add pasta and mix to coat.

Butter an 8×8 casserole dish and add pasta, spreading it smoothly. ¬†Combine panko and melted butter. ¬†Sprinkle the bread crumbs and extra parmesan on top of the pasta. ¬†Bake for 20 minutes or until bubbly.

Serves 2.

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Revel in happy, pasta related bliss.

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You can do that, right?

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I have faith in you.

XOXO Sara

Healthy Pasta Salad

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Hello friends ūüôā

About a week ago, I made this pasta salad recipe and it was super delicious. ¬†Plus, it’s healthy so it’s perfect for a weekday lunch. ¬†In fact, I had it every day last week!

School has been absolutely crazy lately with prom, Grad Nite, and college all coming up! ¬†Luckily, I’ll have a long summer and nice week in Hawaii for my birthday before college life begins.

However, among all the craziness in my life my wonderful boyfriend came ¬†over and surprised me by taking me to lunch yesterday. ¬†That’s a way to have a week made!

Plus we’ve been dating for 2 1/2 years, since yesterday, so that was awesome as well. ¬†2 1/2 years goes quick!

So among your crazy, busy life make this pasta salad for lunches or a dinner side and then you won’t have to worry about ¬†grabbing a fast food bag instead!

Ingredients:

1/2 box of whole wheat penne (or pasta of choice), boiled according to package directions

1 orange pepper, diced

1 cucumber, sliced

1/4 c. Parmesan, shredded

1/4 c. part skim Cheddar cheese, cubed

1/4 c. part skim Colby Jack cheese, cubed

1 can chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

1/4 c. low fat salami, sliced

Dressing:

1/2 c. olive oil

1/4 c. red wine vinegar

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp. dried parsley

Salt and Pepper, to taste

1/2 tsp. spicy mustard

1/4 tsp. sugar

While the pasta is boiling, mix together the ingredients for the salad dressing.  When the pasta is drained and slightly cooled, mix the rest of the salad ingredients together and toss with dressing.  Refrigerate until chilled.  Serve.

*More vegetables could always be added to this salad!  Olives, onion, tomato, etc.

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Stay Serendipitous!

XOXO Sara