Meet cacio e pepe
Cacio e pepe is one of those dishes with a name that doubles as its recipe, much like a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. The classic Roman pasta preparation consists of Pecorino Romano, a sheep’s milk cheese; black pepper; and a splash of starchy water from the pasta pot to slicken the sauce. Sometimes oil or butter is added to the mix, but added fat isn’t strictly necessary. So long as everything’s combined before the cheese can clump, the end result is pretty much guaranteed to charm.
Learn its backstory
According to Katie Parla and Kristina Gill, authors of this year’s "Tasting Rome" cookbook, cacio e pepe (literally, cheese and pepper) didn’t enter the Roman repertoire until the last century. And it didn’t become a sensation until late 2015, when it suddenly started showing up everywhere. “Sorry, fried-chicken sandwich — only a few short months into the new year and you've already been dethroned as New York's trendiest dish,” Time Out New York declared back in March.
Since attaining ramen-level popularity, the dish has been recast as a flavor. Chefs across the country have introduced cacio e pepe ice cream, popcorn, pizza and doughnuts.
As for why cacio e pepe became an overnight star more than six decades after its introduction, industry insiders are generally stumped. Beyond the obvious comfort food explanations that surface in times of national turmoil, it’s hard to attribute the trend to anything other than cacio e pepe’s inherent greatness. As David Chang told New York Magazine, “It has all the elements that make something taste good.” Namely, it’s simultaneously spicy, salty and creamy, with the contrasting textures of smooth sauce and firmish noodles. Plus, the sharp cheese satisfies eaters’ umami requirements.
And order it here
Vincent Chicco’s, 39 John St., holycityhospitality.com/vincent-chiccos, 843-203-3002 (Cacio e pepe, $20)