The key to surviving winter is to find the perks. Snow days. Hot toddies. Giant cozy sweaters. This year, I found a new one to add to the list: cacio e pepe inspired dishes. Cacio e pepe is the incredibly delicious Roman cheese and black pepper pasta dish, deceptively simple because the pasta requires only high quality pecorino romano cheese and freshly ground pepper. It’s luscious and rich, ideal for a dismal winter dinner. I recently discovered that D.C. restaurants are serving up all kinds of interesting twists on the Italian cacio e pepe pasta dish. Make it your goal to try them all.
The Classic Cacio e Pepe
While cacio e pepe is offered at many Italian restaurants around town, the best version can be found at Centrolina. Insider tip: you will never find this dish on the restaurant’s menu, as it is a secret off-menu item, but you can always ask for it. Noodles are twirled in a silky, velvety melted cheese sauce with heaps of black pepper adding spice and flavor. Winter will never seem as enjoyable when you are eating Chef Amy Brandwein’s cacio e pepe.
The Cacio e Pepe Pizza
Stellina is less than a year old, but it already has a reputation for serving delicious neo-Neapolitan pizzas. Their claim to fame is their cacio e pepe pizza, a divine twist on the famous pasta. The fluffy pizza dough is smothered with three different kinds of cheese, including cacio di roma, mozzarella and pecorino, then doused with a healthy dusting of black pepper. It is the ultimate in decadence.
The Cacio e Pepe Arancini
Arancini are fried risotto balls, where risotto is molded into a sphere, dipped in bread crumbs and deep fried. It’s a comfort dish in and of itself. At the Red Hen, the risotto is infused with pecorino cheese and black pepper, battered, fried and then served with an herb aioli. If cacio e pepe pasta is decadent, this is downright sinful. I could honestly eat 100 of them.
The Cacio e Pepe Salad
For a slightly healthier version of the traditional pasta dish, try the cacio e pepe salad at Osteria Morini. The blend of romaine, kale and radicchio comes topped with salty fried capers, shards of pecorino cheese, a sprinkling of black pepper and jagged pieces of fried parmesan. Notice that I said slighter healthier: with the fried toppings and plethora of cheese, this salad still has all the comfort of a quintessential cacio e pepe.
The Udon Noodle Cacio e Pepe
Daikaya’s version of cacio e pepe dish is made with thick udon noodles, which make the dish extra earthy as udon noodles are made with wheat flour. The fat noodles are perfect for soaking up the cheesy sauce. It’s like cacio e pepe 2.0.
The Ramen Noodle Cacio e Pepe
Kevin Tien is a wildly creative chef, and so it is no wonder that he created an Asian version of the classic Italian cacio e pepe. At Emilie’s, he swirls ramen noodles in miso butter, smothers them black pepper and then adorns them with celery leaves. It’s one of those “I’ve-died-and-gone-to-heaven” kind of dishes. The creamy headiness of a typical cacio e pepe is present, while the miso butter gives the dish an Asian edge.