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Looking for authentic Cacio e pepe in Bay Area

  • z

Looking for restaurants serving good cacio e pepe in the Bay Area. We were recently in Rome, and couldn't get enough of this simple yet awesome pasta. Any recommendations?
Thanks in advance.

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  1. I haven't tried it, but I've heard that Tosca Cafe in SF serves it and that it's good.

    1. Wouldn't this be pretty easy to make yourself with some high quality ingredients or are you seeking the restaurant experience?

      1. A serious suggestion, zara:

        Get ahold of the little paperback cookbook "The Romagnolis' Table." It is one of my most-consulted cookbooks in the working collection (kept near the kitchen), and has been ubiquitous in Bay Area used bookstores for 40 years. You could probably order it used via Amazon for basically cost of postage.

        The Romagnolis were the PBS TV counterpart to Julia Child, but for Italian regional cooking. They were contemporary with Marcella Hazan, and likely better known than she in the 1970s.

        Early chapters include a panorama of classic regional pasta specialties and this one is prominent -- maybe the simplest pasta recipe in the book. You can also extend it in various directions, such as the remakably satisfying spaghetti al guanciale, also detailed in Romangolis. (The Cooks Illustrated Pasta-and-Noodles book, which is much more recent, also explores the idea of these "peppery" pasta variations systematically, but credit is due the Romagnolis for earlier popularizing them in the US.) Such dishes are old stand-bys at my home.

        You can get a variety of Pecorino Romano cheeses (both the light "fresh" and the peppery "aged" types) at A G Ferrari, independent cheese chops, and nowadays probably Whole Foods.

        (I didn't actually realize this specialty was not commonly known and home-made in the US until I started seeing online queries about it in recent years.)

        10 Replies
        1. re: eatzalot

          Evil you :) I just ordered this through Amazon :) Sincerely, thanks.

          1. re: c oliver

            I can't tell you how many worthy-looking cookbooks I had acquired as of 30 years ago that mostly gather dust; the Romagnolis' belongs to the small, select group that don't, and the remarkable thing is, the ones most durably useful -- many have surfaced in other CH threads -- often are dirt-cheap on the online used market. Vastly cheaper than the latest new fashionable high-concept or celebrity-chef cookbook that will prove to gather dust on many other shelves in the next 30 years.

            1. re: eatzalot

              Yep, this one is used and with shipping was about $7. I've gotten some amazing cookbooks used. A couple were purged library books in like-new condition.

              1. re: c oliver

                $3.87 including shipping for a hardback in good condition on abebooks.com, a site that aggregates thousands of independent bookstores.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  "$3.87 including shipping for a hardback in good condition on abebooks.com, a site that aggregates thousands of independent bookstores."

                  This isn't a thread on used-book sources, but as I've seen that market evolve in 30 years from needing Wanted ads in a trade weekly, to specialized online clearing-house dealers (alibris and A.B.E. books already mentioned) -- which I still use occasionally for rare titles -- to Amazon "Marketplace," which likewise aggregates many, MANY thousands of dealers and mom-and-pop book collections, today I generally start with Amazon for common titles like this one.

                  Amazon (in clearinghouse role linking sellers and buyers) currently lists multiple copies of the Romagnolis starting at a few cents. Which is typical for such titles. (As compared, say, with the original edition I got once of an epic 1800s European classic which required negotiating directly with the dealer in Spain, not to mention checking their references for reliability...)

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    Amazon starts at $4.37 including shipping.

                    abebooks.com almost always beats them. I think it's many of the same vendors but minus Amazon's charges.

              2. re: eatzalot

                I JUST received this a couple of days ago. Had forgotten I ordered. Looking forward to it. Thanks again.

            2. re: eatzalot

              "The Romagnoli's Table" is a book worth having. I bought mine at a used book store in Winterhaven FL about 30 years ago for $4 after watching the PBS series. The book was in a LOT better shape back then. The Gnocchi Verde recipe never fails to please. A pleasant change from the typical potato offering.
              Another great success was the Rolled Breast of Veal which I boned myself. This was early in my cooking "career" and I was quite proud of myself.
              The intro to the Cacio E Pepe recipe states, "This recipe needs no saucepan. It doesn't need a serving dish either, as it should be mixed on individual plates, as the Romans do. Each person can then mix his own sauce and decide on the amount of pepper to his taste".

              1. re: grampart

                I didn't see the "America's Test Kitchen" show last year that jcg cited, but can't help wondering if that episode mentioned either (a) that it was rehashing a dish popularized 40 years ealier by the hosts of another TV cooking series on PBS, or (b) that in the 2000 "Complete Book of Pasta and Noodles" from Cook's Illustrated, the dish is called only "Spaghetti with Pecorino and Black Pepper," no mention anywhere of Italian regional origin or name.

                1. re: eatzalot

                  The host had recently traveled through Italy and he mentioned how popular the dish is there and that almost every restaurant has it on the menu (or at least the region he was in). Remember Cook's Illustrated is just the magazine for America's Test Kitchen / Cook's Country as they are all basically the same company (see link). The show I watched gave the real name and the American translation.


              1. It's such a simple dish that any Italian restaurant that uses pecorino could make it for you on request. You do not need a cookbook to toss pasta with butter and add grated cheese and pepper.

                Cupola, 54 Mint, Chiaroscuro, and Locanda have it on their menus. Cinecitta and Ideale are owned by Romans and I'd be surprised if they would not make it.

                1. If you're interested in making it yourself,
                  there was a very good article in cooks illustrated (from the folks at americas test kitchen) in the Jan 2010 issue.
                  The recipe is simple, but the technique is everything.
                  Their website is pay, but if you want I can email a copy.

                  1. "You do not need a cookbook to toss pasta with butter and add grated cheese and pepper." (Robert Lauriston, 2014)

                    Indeed not. But a cookbook is useful for things like

                    1) Explaining that butter is NOT needed in this dish -- "the heat of the spaghetti melts the cheese, and the hot pasta water adds just enough moisture to develop the consistency of the sauce." (Romagnolis, 1974)

                    2) Giving you ideas -- not just this one, but others that develop from it or contrast with it. That's what I read cookbooks for. The Romagnolis turned me onto this particular dish (and others that probably not even this board's regulars know about), 30 years before I saw it online, or Cook's Illustrated highlighted it in their magazine and their cookbook that I cited upthread.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: eatzalot

                      Just cheese and pepper is one old-school tradition, but restaurants usually include butter, and the request is to duplicate what they had in restaurants. Restaurants also often use a mix of Reggiano and pecorino.

                      I use olive oil and only pecorino, preferably not Pecorino Romano but something less dry, like people sell on the side of the road in Lazio. Any recipe that claims to be Roman and includes butter or Reggiano seems suspect to me, but I only lived there for three years, so what do I know?

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        "the request is to duplicate what they had in restaurants."

                        Certainly reasonable. It is also part of Roman pasta tradition; the OP specified "authentic," which is arguably a bit ambiguous; and the OP and other readers might well appreciate knowing that both the Romagnolis and the definitive and earlier Ada Boni prescribe only cheese, pepper, and hot pasta water in this dish.

                        The encyclopedic, albeit somewhat stodgy and myopic 2000 Cook's Illustrated Pasta-Noodles book I mentioned (which is American, and somehow managed not even to give this dish's Italian name) does add a little olive oil.

                        1. re: eatzalot

                          There is no definitive recipe unless, like Gian Franco Romagnoli and Ada Boni, you learned it from your mother or grandmother.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I referred to definitive _cookbooks,_ not recipes. Ada Boni is of course the standard print reference point for other Italian authors in the same sense that Escoffier, St.-Ange, etc. are for French, and so on in several other European cooking cultures.

                            So you've mentioned that restaurants and you yourself add butter or olive oil; I've mentioned that some standard printed recipes don't; surely we can agree that both points are worth knowing.

                            Of course there is nothing like an Italian mother or grandmother, for those lucky enough to have them.

                            1. re: eatzalot

                              The closest Italian counterpart of Escoffier is "La Scienza in cucina e l'Arte di mangiar bene" by Pellegrino Artusi. Ada Boni is more the counterpart of Fanny Farmer.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                No, in the context I was writing, Boni's French counterpart is "Le Livre de Cuisine" by Saint-Ange (Paris: Librarie Larousse, 1927), which I mentioned. (I am citing publisher and date from the copyright page of my own copy.) Escoffier the reference work for professional French kitchens, St-Ange for home use. Nevertheless what I specifically wrote is accurate: I've seen numerous writers on Italian cooking for home use paraphrase Ada Boni, including the Romagnolis and Marcella Hazan (who specifically acknowledged Boni in her original 1973 book).

                                But since you raised the subject of Artusi's famous book, what specifically does it say about use of butter in cacio e pepe pasta, the subject at hand?

                    2. Locanda on Valencia has it, along with other Roman dishes.

                      But yes, you can make a very nice one with some imported pecorino from Whole Foods or elsewhere.

                      1. If you make it yourself, make sure to use like 1/4 cup of hot pasta water, and keep it moving when you stir it around with the pasta and cheese, OFF the heat. And do not use pecorino romano, because it doesn't melt evenly. Use a younger sheep's milk cheese. And don't grind the pepper too fine, and be generous with it. I sometimes add cooked guanciale or pancetta to the dish - it is a nice addition.

                        I have had Locanda's, and it's good, but nothing better than I could do at home. Not a hard recipe to do in a restaurant as long as the cook is not sloppy.

                        1. Bar Lago in Oakland on Grand, facing the lake. Also, Locanda on Valencia.

                          I agree that it isn't hard to make, but it is nice to have someone handing you negronis while you're eating!

                          1. This became my favorite Italian dish after watching the episode of America's Test Kitchen (same folks as Cook's Illustrated) last year where I was introduced to it. I've probably made it 10 times since then, and sometimes the sauce came out perfectly smooth and other times it got lumpy. It seems like such an easy dish as there are only a few ingredients in it, but I guess the devils are in the details. After trying to figure out what went wrong when the sauce got lumpy, I happened to be reading the relatively new cookbook "Modernist Cuisine". They have a recipe for mac & cheese where they add a small amount of sodium citrate as it acts as an emulsifier and makes the cheese sauce perfectly creamy. I figured why not try that with this dish and guess what - I've had perfect sauce every single time since using this trick. I'm sure the purists will be all over my case for doing it, but sodium citrate is pretty much tasteless and you only use 1 teaspoon per lb of pasta. I'll post the recipe in a followup post in case anyone is interested.


                            2 Replies
                            1. re: jcg14

                              I think farmersdaughter noted the trick to making an emulsion using nothing but hot water and cheese: you need a younger cheese. Using dry, hard Pecorino Romano may give you a grainy slurry instead.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I've used different cheeses and I always make sure the water is very hot (right after the pasta is removed from the boiling water). The issue when it came out a bit lumpy could have been the cheese, but the sodium citrate trick works with any cheese. I usually use the Locatelli brand that I can get at the local Safeway.

                            2. Cacio e Pepe recipe

                              1 pound spaghetti
                              4 ounces (about 2 cups) imported Pecorino Romano cheese (grated on finest setting)
                              1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
                              1 1/2 teaspoons salt
                              1 teaspoon sodium citrate
                              1 - 1 1/2 cups leftover starchy pasta water

                              Bring 8 cups water to a boil and add the salt (you only use 8 cups so you get a nice starchy water that will be used for the sauce). Cook pasta till al dente. Mix 1 cup left over pasta water with the sodium citrate. Add the cheese to the pasta along with the sodium citrate water, and slowly toss until the sauce is nice and creamy. Add more leftover pasta water if needed to get the sauce to the consistency you like. Add pepper, toss again and serve.


                              3 Replies
                              1. re: jcg14

                                Hmm, interesting idea. I never thought of using sodium citrate in cacio e peppe. I'll have to try it sometime, I always keep some on hand, and eat cacio e peppe at least once or twice a month.

                                1. re: jcg14


                                  1. The Romagnolis for 1.25 pounds of spaghetti use half a tablespoon _coarsely_ ground black pepper, and reserve the same amount again for individual further additions to taste. (They are not the only writers I've seen to stress coarse grinding.)

                                  2. Anyone with citrus fruit could probably improvise sodium citrate in the kitchen since citrus acid is a dominant natural fruit acid. (You might end up with some sodium tartarate etc. in the mix, but it's worth trying and may even taste better, from the fruit source.) I'd start with lemon or lime juice, neutralize with baking soda a little at a time until it doesn't taste notably acid, and give time for the bubbles to depart (ideally overnight, refrigerated). Worth trying anyway. (There are many such easy kitchen chemistry improvises, e.g. I've easily converted eggshells to the gelling agent that makes Sternoâ„¢, for chafing-dish fuel.)

                                  1. re: jcg14

                                    The one my husband makes is slightly different but also is pretty easy and comes out excellent. It uses Grana Padano or Parmesan in addition to Pecorino. Our favorite pasta to make it with is Phoenix meyer lemon pasta. Here is the recipe:

                                    Kosher salt
                                    6 oz. pasta (such as egg tagliolini, bucatini, or spaghetti)
                                    3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed, divided
                                    1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
                                    3/4 cup finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan
                                    1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
                                    Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 5-qt. pot. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking water.
                                    Meanwhile, melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook, swirling pan, until toasted, about 1 minute.
                                    Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to skillet and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining butter. Reduce heat to low and add Grana Padano, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. Remove pan from heat; add Pecorino, stirring and tossing until cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta, and pasta is al dente. (Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry.) Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve.

                                  2. We can't really split this out because it's in two separate sub-threads and our software isn't that powerful, but we'd encourage people to restart the cookbook and 'how to make cacio e pepe' discussions over on the Home Cooking board, since they'll appeal to an audience outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, as well.


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