How to make the Italian version of mac and cheese, which Anthony Bourdain calls the world's greatest pasta dish

Anthony bourdainNetflix/No ReservationsAnthony Bourdain says cacio e pepe — a humble pasta of cheese, pepper, and butter — ‘could be the greatest thing in the history of the world.’

One of the earliest known recipes for macaroni and cheese comes from the 13th century tome “
Liber de Coquina,” an Italian cookbook, naturally.

In it, a recipe named de lasanis calls for cut-up sheets of pasta to be tossed with parmesan cheese, which sounds a lot like cacio e pepe to me.

If you’ve never tried it, cacio e pepe is one of the great, incredibly simple pastas of Rome. In an episode of “No Reservations,” wandering chef Anthony Bourdain went so far as to say the dish “could be the greatest thing in the history of the world.”

July 14 is National Mac and Cheese Day, but the Italian version still reigns supreme over elbow noodles and powdered cheese. Keep scrolling for a window into the episode and to see how cacio e pepe is traditionally made.

The episode begins in an 'undisclosed location,' since Tony couldn't bear to expose the name of his favourite cacio e pepe restaurant and have it ruined by throngs of tourists.

Unfortunately for the restaurant's quiet charm, it didn't take long for people to find out that it was Ristorante Roma Sparita on Rome's Piazza di Santa Cecila. (Sidenote: The episode was shot in black-and-white as a nod to '60s Italian cinema.)

A waiter appears and explains the specialty of the house, cacio e pepe, which starts with tagliolini pasta and water.

The blogger behind Food Lover's Odyssey went to Roma Sparita and came up with a pretty exact recipe. To start, boil 1/2 pound of tagliolini or spaghetti in well-salted water and strain about three minutes before it's fully cooked, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the pasta water.

The reserved pasta water is then added to a large saucepan with 2 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of fresh cracked pepper.

Personally, I recommend blooming your cracked pepper in the pan first, then adding butter, then adding the water.

Cook the pasta in the 'sauce' until it's al dente and has absorbed most of the liquid.

Remove the pan from the heat and add 1 3/4 cups of parmesan or pecorino Romano.

And if you really want the full Roma Sparita experience, make a crispy parmesan bowl. Simply spread 3/4 cup parmesan in a thin layer on the bottom of a non-stick saucepan and cook for three minutes, or until it becomes pliable. Remove the cheese sheet from the pan with a spatula...

...and use a ramekin or small bowl to mould it.


Arrange your cacio e pepe in its cradle and top with more cheese.

Because: duh.

Even in black-and-white it's a thing of beauty.

But here's Roma Sparita's cacio e pepe in living colour, just in case you needed it.

Time for Anthony to dig in.

'We can't tell anyone where this is. We can't f--- this up,' he says after a few bites.

'In order to enjoy this plate of food, what would I be willing to sacrifice from my past,' he asks himself. The first thing to go is a Jefferson Aeroplane concert.

Then a few, ahem, hallucinatory experiences.

Then a piece of classic literature.

Then this.

But not this!

Seriously, though, cacio e pepe is one of the simplest, most delicious things you can whip up for not a lot of money and not a lot of effort. As today happens to be National Macaroni and Cheese Day, I can't think of anything better to have for dinner than this.

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