“One should always be drunk. That's all that matters...But with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you chose. But get drunk.”
For yet another reason that puts me morally below many a mommy blogger—you know, the ones I admittedly hate read, but at the same time respect due to their sheer audience numbers and salary—read the following statement you probably won’t see in their next recipe for a sheet pan supper:
Cooking while somewhat drunk is a fantastic experience.
I mean, being buzzed already is a fun time in and of itself, but very much like the drunken fist, there’s this sort of hidden skill you acquire. You might not be as precise as usual and are lacking in finesse, but you move around the kitchen in this frenetic energy. If you’re like me and this is happening at 2:30am after a trip to the bars, you’re also hungry; your palate is ravenous and heightened tenfold, senses on high alert like a watchdog hearing the crinkling of fallen leaves in the middle of the night. All of a sudden you’re more acutely aware and in tune with everything going on the kitchen: the right amount of kosher salt to pinch with your three fingers, and the realization that a whallop of miso could heighten the brown butter in this late night cacio e pepe you’re making for your drunk stomach. You don’t know how or why green onion oil came about, or why you chose a classic Vietnamese condiment to pair with a paradigm of Roman cuisine, but you love it because it gives a murmur of those garlicky noodles every Asian grew up eating and adoring. Who cares if it’s all borderline sacrilegious? You have the drunchies!
This isn’t to say cooking drunk isn’t somewhat dangerous and prone to disaster. I tend to be more lax about how high the heat is under the pan, as I grate the butt of a wedge of pecorino until I become dangerously close to flaying my fingers. As a result I sit down to lumps—lumpy cheese stuck to the bottom of the pan instead of on my pasta. And I eat it all up anyway because it’s 2:30 in the morning and I’ve been trying to kick my late night Taco Bell habit (another thing you won’t see mentioned on any respectable food blog). So despite the mild culinary disaster, I merrily eat away at the salt, fat, and carbs twirled into a sloppy pile in front of me.
Cacio e pepe is surprisingly hard to make. Many, like me, will end up with pecorino glued to the bottom of the pan, when it should be clung to a creamy emulsion on strands of chewy spaghetti. Yet it’s still incredibly addicting to eat. It’s like driving for the first time—you might make a shit ton of mistakes while your dad has his hand hovering over the e-brake in sheer terror, and you might run a stop light or nearly hit a pedestrian, but once you get a taste, no matter how sloppy, you’re hooked. You’re hooked, and then a saint like Kenji comes along to show you how to flawlessly parallel park by cracking the code on making a more creamy cacio e pepe, and overall how to have a more pleasurable post-Friday night experience.
CACIO E PEPE WITH BROWN BUTTER, MISO, & SCALLION OIL
Adapted from the Food Lab
serves an inebriated Foursome
You could follow the following quantities and measurements to an exact amount, but that would defeat the joy of drunk cooking. The wonderful thing about cacio e pepe is as long as you’re fairly confident on the technique, no matter how lax you are in doling out gratings of pecorino, cracks of pepper, and spoonfuls of miso you’re bound to end up with something good no matter what. If you're a more rational person who doesn't keeps five different cheeses in the fridge at any given time, good ol' parm will do.
for the scallion oil
⅓ cup olive oil
6 green onions, thinly sliced
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1 pound spaghetti
4 ounces butter (1 stick), divided
2 teaspoons fresh black pepper, plus more to finish
3 tablespoons white miso paste
4 ounces finely grated pecorino romano cheese
mise en place: scallion oil
Heat the oil in a pan until just shimmering. Add the remaining ingredients, toss for 10 seconds, and turn off the heat. Allow to rest in the warm pan for five minutes before transferring to a container. Can store in the fridge for a week.
In a large shallow pan, cover the spaghetti with water and season with salt. Be a bit more reserved with how you salt your water, since a good portion of this tiny amount of water will end back in the final dish, and the miso paste and cheese are already quite salty. Bring to a boil and cook until al dente. Place a colander over a bowl to collect the pasta water and drain the spaghetti. The steam from the hot water will keep the pasta warm until ready.
Return the same pan over medium high heat, and add 6 tablespoons of the butter. Swirl occasionally until the butter browns and smells nutty, about 4-6 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the ground pepper. Once the sizzling subsides, add the pasta, ½ cup of the pasta water, miso paste, and the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Stir vigorously to combine until the miso paste is dissolved. Add the grated pecorino romano, and continue to toss, giving the pan spurts of low heat until the sauce is emulsified. Add more pasta water as necessary to get it to the desired consistency.
Divide the cacio e pepe amongst four bowls and top with the scallion oil.