I just saw something on my Instagram feed that triggered a brand of fury that makes Larry David look like a reasonable, well-coiffed, beacon of tolerance. A reputable food brand (name protected for fear of further ridicule) had the audacity to call a pesto pasta cacio e pepe. I know. I nearly smashed my own iPhone screen out of pure contempt, y’all. I couldn’t understand how this misstep got past the copious caption editing that I’m sure takes place on social media and ended up in my face, mocking everything I hold near and dear.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. Pesto is delicious in its own right, but it has no business masquerading as my beloved cacio e pepe.
It’s entirely unacceptable.
I have been a seasoned consumer of cacio e pepe pasta for the better part of 10 years, so you can understand why I have a hard time letting this go. Cacio e pepe is a Roman pasta dish that is known for basic, un-effed-around-with ingredients. The name simply means “cheese and pepper,” and it’s made with Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper and pasta. THAT’S IT.
When done right, it’s cooked al dente, and maybe there’s a touch of butter or olive oil involved. It’s unbelievable, y’all. It’s everything that’s right with the Italian kitchen. Simple, high quality ingredients and excellent execution. I prefer it with the long thin spaghetti noodles, but I’ve also had it in rigatoni pasta, like you see above.
That’s as fancy as cacio e pepe should get. I’m going to have to insist on committing to a life as a pasta purist when it comes to this dish, because you’ll miss the point otherwise. One does not throw a pesto atop this and be like, “Check out my awesome mash-up,” because this is not Pitch Perfect.
This is a dish Romans have been preparing since the Roman Empire (note: bold claim not backed up by evidence), not some nutty, basily concoction that’s originally from Genoa, a city whose name means “knee,” the grossest part of one’s leg.
If you ask me, pesto needs to take a knee and praise cacio e pepe, not mount the simplest of dishes with an entirely undeserved superiority.
I mean, just look at it. Amazing right?