Brow Beat

A Genius “Cacio” e Pepe That’s Unusually Hard to Screw Up

A black bowl of yellow pasta sits on a table next to a napkin and fork.
Julia Gartland

If you’re in need of more muscle memory dinners, more answers that call back to you when you stare into the fridge with an empty, hopeful brain: This speedy little cacio e pepe is here for you.

I should say: This speedy little “cacio” e pepe, because there is no cacio (cheese). But the effect is remarkably similar and, by divorcing himself from the aged pecorino in the cult Roman pasta, Momofuku Noodle Bar Executive Chef Tony Kim has made this rich, comforting salty-spicy-creamy pasta sauce more accessible to anyone in the mood, regardless of the skills they possess and how deft they’re feeling at the time.

This is because traditional cacio e pepe relies on practice and patience, and vigorous tossing—a technique well worth mastering, but maybe not tonight—to make a smooth sauce. Dry, grated cheese and starchy pasta water don’t inherently gravitate toward one another—the wrong heat, timing, moisture, or position of Mercury can send the sauce into dry and clumpy misalignment.

A small bowl of topping sits on a black table next to pasta twisted into spirals.
Julia Gartland

But, as Kim has discovered, a swirl of miso, butter, and chicken stock do no such thing—they love melding together. “The emulsification process pretty much happens on its own,” Kim wrote when he published this recipe in Lucky Peach in 2016.

They also happen to make an incredibly delicious, noodle-coating sauce that does a very fine impression of a creamy, cheese-based one. And there’s a good chance they’re all waiting for you in your fridge and freezer now.

Pasta and juicy topping sizzles in a pan as two hands use tongs to mix the pasta.
Julia Gartland

From here, Kim fiddled a bit further with the rest of the dish, morphing the black pepper into a more complex, three-pronged punch of black, white, and tingly Sichuan peppercorns, and replacing the dry Italian pasta with chewy fresh ramen noodles. Happily, these are getting easier to find in grocery stores (check in the refrigerated section near the tofu and miso), but I have to tell you: A package of cheap, dry ramen is also very good here.

Every last one of these elements can (and may already) live in your kitchen, ready to spring into action for a last-ditch dinner for you, for the family, or for a phalanx of hungry guests. All without sharpened skills or focus, the ingredients carrying you through.

Tony Kim’s “Cacio” E Pepe

• Kosher salt, to taste
• 1 tablespoon plus
• 1 teaspoon unsalted butter, softened
• 2 teaspoons white miso
• 1/2 cup chicken stock, plus more as needed
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Sichuan pepper (or to taste), plus more for garnish**
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (or to taste), plus more for garnish**
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or to taste), plus more for garnish**
• 1 portion fresh ramen noodles (or dry ramen noodles in a pinch)

See the full recipe on Food52.

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