Gourmandistan

Fried cacio e pepe helps us recall some delicious Rome memories

Gourmandistan recently returned from a trip to Italy, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Michelle and Steve’s official union. (We don’t use our “shacking up” years in the official count.) While we spent the majority of our time in Venice, the trip began and ended in Rome. There we enjoyed a delicious, deep-fried version of Rome’s famous cacio e pepe (pasta with pepper and cheese). The path to enjoying it, however, had a few ups and downs—and not all the ups were good.

For the first day or so, Rome was great. Our nice hotel in the hip Monti was convenient to the Colosseum, the train station and a Metro stop. We took a tour of the Trionfale market, afterwards enjoying takeaway from a nearby baker reputed to be “the Michelangelo of pizza.” We saw the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, passed through the Pantheon and several churches and snickered at tacky souvenirs, including what seemed to be a bafflingly oblivious “sexy priest” calendar. Just our kind of travel.

Checking out Rome’s Termini station in preparation for our train trip to Venice, we made sure to get some wine and food at the station’s Mercato Centrale, including some delightful fried chicken strips with oatmeal batter from Martino Bellincampi’s stall. Satisfied with our snack and our ability to walk our luggage to the train, we passed up Bellincampi’s fried cacio e pepe pucks, thinking we could grab some either departing or returning to Termini. Then our plans (and Michelle’s stomach) got upset.

Some sort of nasty food poisoning or virus left Michelle disinclined to either explore or eat for an entire day. Still not in the mood to eat, she managed to actually enjoy our guided visit to the Vatican (albeit with greenish-hued skin and gritted teeth).The day we left for Venice, Michelle was feeling better and (understandably) a bit hungry. We arrived early at Termini station, only to watch the metal doors of Mercato Centrale not open. Instead, two employees argued over how and where to post a sign noting “special circumstances”—meaning no fried cacio e pepe for us.

Venice was wonderful, and we hope to add more detail in a future post. (Spoiler: there will be no squid ink.) It was over all too soon, and we once again found ourselves in Termini Station, with plenty of time to enjoy a wide-open Mercato Centrale. While we wished there were also carciofi alla giudìa (fried artichokes), we did finally enjoy deep-fried cacio e pepe, which we thought was something we could recreate at home.

Back in America, we purchased dried Italian pasta and a hunk of Pecorino Romano, along with a Dutch semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese. (We weren’t able to find the cacio di Roma cheese our cacio e pepe recipe called for.) Putting the cheese, pasta and starchy water together was simple and delicious, giving us another easy dinner option. Chilling the surplus cheesy pasta in round molds overnight, we soon managed a reasonable recreation of Bellincampi’s fried snack. It was a lovely way to remember Rome, where we hope to someday return—this time with less sickness and more snacks. 

FRIED CACIO E PEPE

Place leftover pasta in oiled rings (we used English muffin rings), pushing down firmly with your fingers. Place on a flat surface (we used a cutting board covered with waxed paper) and refrigerate overnight.

Remove pasta pucks from rings and dip first in flour, then in eggs, then in breadcrumbs.

Deep-fry in neutral oil at 350° F until well-browned.  Drain on paper or a cooling rack.

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30 comments

  1. Congratulations!
    It sounds like you had a fantastic trip, aside from the stomach bug. I look forward to hearing about Venice. No squid ink? I hope at least you got to eat some cicchetti.
    There’s an excellent, recent, two part BBC show called Rome Unpacked with chef Giorgio Locatelli and art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, which is all food and art – if you can find it and have the inclination…

    • Lots and lots and lots of cicchetti! Thanks for the tip on the TV show. Sounds great. I don’t know why it took me so long to get to Rome, but it just did. (Steve had been there before.)

  2. Dr. Kelly Scott Reed

    Michelle & Steve — Ciao! Lovely Italian food painting — and salavering as always…. But just to remind you about official unions for some of us: had we counted the church/state years, we’d have been coupled for 4 years……but there were 36 years before that. Why keep recognizing the churchly/stately above the shackinglyupply? Just sayn’. I know: social comment, no partner with Food. Best from the garden of good & evil, Kelly & Mark

    • Steve

      We often link social comment with food in Gourmandistan, so no worries. It may not surprise you that deciding to date our union from the “shacking up” period could cause some disagreement in Gourmandistan, as Michelle and I might hold different views of when, exactly, that time began. I hope you, Mark, Michelle and I can soon get together (perhaps over Italian food?) and discuss our young romances and the longevity of our relationships. Great to hear from you!

      • Dr. Kelly Scott Reed

        We love ypur Gourmandistan writing & photography! Would love to see you. Will research Italian/Savannah (“Bella Napoli” is one I’ve heard whispered about…) We respect & fear your Sophisticated Palates. 💐🌹

      • Dr. Kelly Scott Reed

        Carissimo! Did you glimpse Pallazo Rezzonico? The old man died there, as I recall…… Seems like another lifetime ago, all that. We miss you two, & all our deep party-chatter!

        • We did go there last trip (in 2011). This time, we were mostly philistines, so the best I can say is that we may have stopped at its vaporetto stop! And, yeah, that “deep party-chatter” is currently lacking in our lives. 😦

  3. great ways of enjoying leftovers. Fried pasta is always good (as well as “frittata di pasta”, aka leftover spaghetti turned into an oily and crisp frittata). My Roman friends have nice words for mercato centrale (but not for the current state of the city)
    what did u think of Bonci? as I said to Michelle, I loved his pizza, which I tasted before he became super giga mega star, many yrs ago, when he had only a tiny, tiny shop…I loved his light and yet substantial dough and some of the toppings (he has a book too, should u be interested). I made his dough often at home and it is good (even if he has many detractors in the pizza world: too much yeast, they say…: I would not say it is the best dough I have tried, but definitely worth knowing… even if, crazy as it might sound, I prefer the focaccia dough in Baking With Julia (which is pumped with yeast, to be honest- but excellent, for me)).
    cacio de roma: I have never heard of such cheese: It looks like a young pecorino basically (but google. italy cannot find it… I wonder if it is something produced just to be exported)
    lovely pictures, make me feel to go back to beautiful and maddening Rome
    stefano

    • Steve

      I agree the Google isn’t much help in finding out about cacio de roma, Stefano—one entry told me an alternate name for it was “formaggio.” Helpful! I think any sheep’s milk cheese with the firmness of Gouda to Jarlsberg would work—our Dutch “Lamb chopper” certainly did. (And I think it would be better than the suggestion Michelle heard on the radio about adding cornstarch to Pecorino Romano imported to America to help thicken the sauce.)
      We now realize we most likely had the Bonci focaccia, which we thought was fine—but we’ve been spoiled by our two local pizza makers, who both use organic flours and wood-burning ovens to produce pizzas we think Italians would love. For our home use, I’ve come to rely on Alice Waters’ recipe from “The Art of Simple Food,” and find a slow rise overnight in the refrigerator makes the best tasting pizza dough.

    • A public radio program I heard recently (Milk Street, which Steve references above) was talking about how you can’t properly make cacio e pepe here in the States because the pecorino we get is too old due to our crazy cheese laws. I gather the Saveur Magazine recipe was trying to replicate what you’d get in Rome by mixing old and young cheeses. Though, like you and Steve, I have no earthly idea if there’s really such a thing as “cacio de Roma.”

    • Thanks! I thought of you often in Venice. And how disappointed you’d have been in me for never cooking anything more than a pot of coffee in our apartment kitchen … despite being just steps away from the Rialto market.

  4. Dr. Kelly Scott Reed

    I’m rooting for March, April, & September in the “Hot Priests” calendar”! (but the link is to the 2014 edition; think they were raided by Vatican polizia & shut down?) Great trip, M & S !

    • I wondered the same thing about that dead link. The calendars we were seeing were definitely labeled 2018, but I think the pics may have been the same ones in that old article. Capitalism!

  5. VBruce

    You know you’re living right when Dr. Kelly Scott Reed rises from Savannah with approval. Venice is my favorite city (except for the squid ink, yuk). Here’s to the anniversary celebrants whenever it starts.

    • Dr. Kelly Scott Reed

      Virginia Bruce, you & your golden curls & everything else in that cranium & heart are So Dear To Us! Leave it to M & S to bring us together this way.! (“La prego di accettare le mie scuse” to all faithful Gourmandistan readers who’re trying to write about FOOD !) Dear VA. ♥️💐🌹🥀♥️

  6. 30+ years that´s impressive, congrats to you both! And I LOVE the idea of going on a second (or third, or 4th??) honeymoon trip for the occasion. Never heard of that pizza god you mention – did you owe him your stomach bug, Michelle?? Love your cacio e pepe fritters, I´ll try them , though in our house, there are hardly any pasta leftovers ever…;.)

  7. Oh my. So sorry you got sick on vacation. Happened to me only once in Tanzania. I think I got a little loose and free with the tap water. Now I have never heard of this, but boy does it sound wonderful! They would be hard to stop eating…

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