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.

Beef Stroganoff with Shallots & Brandy

The first recipe of my Valentine’s series, this beef stroganoff with shallots and brandy is the perfect comfort food. While it may not be the prettiest meal, this beef stroganoff has been one of my all-time favorites since childhood. I have the best memories of enjoying this cozy dinner countless times with my family.

Beef Stroganoff with Shallots & Brandy | Serendipity by Sara Lynn
Continue reading “Beef Stroganoff with Shallots & Brandy”

Lasagna Bolognese

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Holy hell, it snowed again this weekend, and then when it wasn’t snowing, it was raining, and when it wasn’t raining it was perfect, foggy, San Franciscan weather that brings me peace.  It was the ideal weekend, aside from the moment yesterday when, while walking and eating an ice cream cone in the flurry-darkness, I somehow didn’t see a huge freaking puddle of rain right in front of me, and I kicked it, and rainwater splashed all over my jeans and inside of my shoes.  I probably would have been sad if I wasn’t laughing so hard, but that’s what I get for wearing old-man smoking slippers in the slushy rain-snow.

Luckily, nothing could dampen my spirits, because 1. I had mint chip ice cream from Simple!! and 2. I’m babysitting a big furry puppy this weekend while my cousin is at a friend’s wedding!  She’s a big furry ball of floof (aka a Bernese Mountain Dog) named Flower, and even though she punched me in the face while I was petting her this morning, I’ve had the best weekend hugging her squishiness!  Plus, there was that misty weather I was talking about earlier, and I had the most ethereal morning making coffee at work while the fog traipsed between the Sierras.  Oh, and then there was the lasagna…

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Lasagna is one of my favorite meals of all time, but especially when it’s frosty and misty outside.  The melding of cheese + pasta + tomatoes hugs my insides and makes me feel cozy and warm.  This lasagna in particular has been one of our favorite family recipes for a few years now.  I’m honestly not sure where the recipe itself came from, but the flavors balance together so nicely – the ratio of cheese to meat is perfect, and the veggies add a lighter texture.  Also, the recipe uses cottage cheese, which forms these delicious little cheese clumps without the heaviness of ricotta, and yuuummm!

I’ve tried at least four different lasagna recipes by now, and this is the one I always come back to.  It takes a little work, as all lasagnas do, but of course it’s worth it!  It’s the perfect weekend project if you want to perch yourself in front of a movie or listen to classic jazz while you layer delicate noodles with veggies, meat sauce, and a pile of cheese.  While the sauce is simmering, you can make a light salad or mix some herbs & butter to make toasty garlic bread, or better yet, start some creme brulee or mascarpone cheesecake.  Lasagna is special, and it deserves proper dessert as well.  This meal is perfect for a dinner party with friends or a romantic date-night with your love (note: this will feed both of you for days).  I wish you all lasagna-making bliss ‚ô•

lasagna-bolognese

xo Sara Lynn

*Song of the Day: Cry Me a River by Julie London


Thank you to Sanford Ranch Beef for sponsoring this post!  Sanford Ranch Beef is locally-grown, hormone-free, steroid-free, all-natural, and all the good stuff.  Visit their Facebook or website if you live in the Reno area.

As always, all opinions are my own.

Single Lady Mac & Cheese

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This past weekend was kind of rough for a multitude of different reasons.  Even though I had some relaxing moments spending time with friends and family, most of my weekend was spent in a state of “blah” that I couldn’t quite shake.  When I’m feeling like this, I know the best thing to do is to engage in self-care with a little bit of comfort food and TV.  My craving was mac and cheese, but I didn’t want to make a huge pan of leftovers that could go to waste.  After a few minutes of thought, I realized I could easily make a tiny mac and cheese that would feed just myself.  Even in my difficult times, my brain comes up with great things!

This recipe is perfect for a feel-sorry-for-yourself-night, because it only requires one pot and it’s super versatile.  You can use whatever cheese and pasta you have around the house, although smaller pastas with plenty of nooks and crannies are always the best!  I’m also partial to a cheddar-parmesan mixture if you have that around the house.

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As far as fanciness, this mac and cheese is pretty fancy-free.  I just blend it all together, top it with a little parm, and broil it until browned.  I add a little ceyenne pepper, mustard powder, worcestershire, onion powder, and garlic powder.  Feel free to add whatever spices you want or none at all.  Broil or don’t broil.  Eat it out of the pan and leave the dishes for later, or wash the pot while the pasta broils (my method, because dirty dishes give me anxiety).  Once your mac and cheese craving has be fulfilled, you can crawl back in bed or take a walk or go grab a coffee.  This mac and cheese is about you and your needs after all.

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Take time for self love this week my friends ‚ô•  We all deserve it.

XO Sara Lynn

*Song of the Day: Dandelion Wine by Gregory Alan Isakov

 

Not So College-y Ramen

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This is not what normal college kids do.  I’m aware of that.

I totally fathom that most kids (half) boil a pot of water, throw the noodles in for way past the recommended time until they’re soggy mush, and then accidentally drop the foil packet into the scalding water before dipping their fingers in, ripping it open, all while screaming a list of profanities and cursing corporate ramen companies worldwide.

I really understand that.

I’m just not a normal college kid.

For instance, my roommates and I had a huge Friendsgiving meal last night starting with crostini, roasted garlic, and truffle goat cheese appetizers, plenty of roasted chicken breasts (we couldn’t find turkey breasts oooops), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted multi-colored carrots, stuffing, and ending with homemade chocolate cream pie.

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Oh yeah, and plenty of Frank Sinatra and old-fashioneds.

Like I said, not normal. 

That’s why when I started watching The Mind of a Chef on Netflix, and got a whole history lesson on ramen, I knew I had to try a new approach to the little crinkly plastic wrapped package of noodles and MSG I normally pass in the store.

Hence “not so college-y ramen”.

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Ingredients:

2 boneless pork chops

4 cups chicken broth

1 package ramen (get rid of that foil flavor packet!!!)

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced and divided

1 tsp. ginger, grated

3 Tbs. soy sauce, divided

1 Tbs. brown sugar

1 carrot, grated

1/4 c. frozen corn

1 Tbs. chives, chopped

Toppings: Thai Marinated cucumbers, Siracha, bean sprouts, seaweed, whatever you have (which is what I did).

*Please note that the sun going down at 4:30 means not so great pictures.  I ask that you kindly understand.*

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Place pork in a bag.  Mix in 1 Tbs. soy sauce (or more, I kind of just eyeballed), 1 Tbs. brown sugar, 1 clove garlic, salt, and pepper.  Marinate for 30 minutes, or overnight if you prefer.

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Cook your pork chop until nice and golden brown.

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Uh, bad pic wow.  But yeah, nice and golden brown is the point I’m trying to get across.  Then slice it!

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Grate your carrot.  You can do it on a paper towel if you’re really fancy like me.

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Heat a little bit of oil in your soup pot.

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Brown your garlic and ginger.

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Pour in your chicken broth.  Get ready for some blurry pics.  I just got a new camera so I’m still learning to use it!

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Add your carrots, corn, and chives.

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Add soy sauce (blurry pic ah!).  Bring the liquid to a boil.

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And your noodle square.  And some salt and pepper, if you like.  Cook according to package directions.

Serve with your desired toppings!

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Much better than MSG ramen!  Still not great for you, but still way healthier and much yummier!  Enjoy college and non-college students, alike.

XO Sara

Song of the Day: Buddy Holly–Weezer

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