Mac and cheese is one of the easiest go-to comfort food options out there, especially for those of us who spend most of our year living in dorms.
However, it’s not always the healthiest, and at some point you usually end up getting sick of the orangey tubes from a microwave container and craving something a little more flavorful and homemade.
After being in Rome for three weeks, I have discovered the Italian version of mac and Cheese. It’s called Cacio e Pepe and it will redefine your mac and cheese world.
Cacio e Pepe (pronounced cah-chee-o) translates to “cheese and paper.” It’s made with Pecorino cheese (better known as Pecorino Romano) and ground black pepper. The cheese has a slightly smokey, sharp flavor that is intensified when paired with the black pepper, but never to a point that’s overwhelming.
Cacio e Pepe even has an added bonus. It makes your mac and cheese healthier! A study conducted from 2003 to 2009 by professors from the Universities of Sassari, Cagliari, Idaho, and Washington State confirmed that Pecorino cheese contains high levels of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), an Omega-6 fatty acid.
What makes Omega-6 so good for you is that is helps reduce fat, suppresses diabetes, preserves muscle tissue, and inhibits tumor growth on the skin and stomach. All this just from your mac and cheese sounds almost too good to be true!
The first step to making Cacio e Pepe is finding your Pecorino cheese. While selections will vary based on where you live and what your grocery store carries, try to keep your eye out for a brand called Locatelli, or at least one that is made in Italy.
Cacio e Pepe is traditionally served over Tonnarelli pasta, which is very similar to spaghetti. If you can’t get our hands on it feel free to experiment with other cuts. Go healthier and use whole-wheat pasta. Get crafty and make your own from scratch!
For 2 servings you’ll need:
200 g of the pasta of your choice
About 150 g of Pecorino Romano
Black pepper to taste
- Bring water to a boil in a pot on the stove. Once bubbling add in some salt.
- Cook the pasta according to the directions and your liking. It’s traditional to cook the pasta to al dente, but it’s completely up to you.
- Reserve some pasta water and drain the rest, adding the pasta to your serving bowl.
- Add in the water and cheese until you get a cream consistency. Add more cheese if it’s too wet, more water if it’s too dry.
- Toss with back pepper and enjoy!