Cacio e Pepe della Scala
Can I gush? I just need to gush for a minute here, over the bountiful beauty of the vegetables this spring and the rare jewels that I am stumbling upon at the Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market. Onion blossoms! Zucchini flowers! Gorgeous grape tomatoes! I feel like I am coming out of a long sleep in a dark cave and my creative cooking juices are finally allowed to flow again. Thank you spring, thank you farmers!
The onion blossoms were a wonderful discovery, they have a pungent yet subtle onion flavor. When I tasted one at the market I was immediately taken back to my childhood when I would munch on the wild onion sprouts that I would find hidden in the grass while playing in the yard. They are so delicate when they are cooked that you just get this whiff of fresh onion flavor, mmmmm, I could go on for days.
I was also so happy to have found zucchini flowers, I found them once last year and have been searching for them every since to make one of my favorite pastas, Cacio e Pepe della Scala, which is a twist on a traditional cacio e pepe from a restaurant in Trastevere called La Scala (eek the website has Dean Martin crooning “That’s Amore”, don’t let this or the many tourists deter you from eating there if you happen to be in Rome, the food is fantastic). I would often take clients to lunch there since it was down the street from my office and was the kind of place that my American clients usually enjoyed, not too rough around the edges like most of the osteria that my husband and I would go to. I would order this pasta almost every time I went there, which was a lot. They served the creamy cacio e pepe sauce over homemade tagliolini and added pachino tomatoes and zucchini flowers to jazz one of Rome’s simplest pastas up a bit.
It doesn’t really need much jazzing up, but I wanted to use the onion blossoms and sauteed them in butter before making a béchamel sauce.
Cacio e Pepe alla Scala
You have a number of options on ways to make this, you can make a traditional cacio e pepe and toss the tomatoes and the flowers in with the hot pasta and cheese, or to create a béchamel sauce and mix some of the cheese in to make it a creamier pasta. The recipe that I have provided is closer to the recipe from La Scala with a bechamel, a traditional cacio e pepe will appear eventually.
Cacio e Pepe with Béchamel
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1½ tbsp flour
- 1 cup heated milk
- salt & pepper to taste
- pinch of nutmeg
- 1/2 cup of cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
- 4 or 6 zucchini blossoms, torn into strips if large, left whole if small
- 1/2 lb of pasta (fresh pasta like tagliolini would be ideal, but we used casareccie and were quite happy)
- 1 cup grated pecorino romano, plus additional for serving
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- salt to taste
Fill a large pot with water for the pasta. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add flour and stir. Heat milk in a separate saucepan over low to medium heat. While constantly whisking, gradually add hot milk to the roux. Simmer mixture while continuing to whisk. Sauce will thicken in a few minutes, add more milk if it becomes too thick you want it to stay really creamy.
Add tomatoes to the béchamel and cook over low heat, the tomatoes just need to be heated not cooked.
Once the water starts to boil for the pasta add a small handful of salt to the water and bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
After you have added the pasta to the water, add the zucchini flowers and ¼ of the pecorino romano to the béchamel, stir to blend the cheese.
Fill a large glass or ceramic bowl with some hot water to warm bowl. Just before pasta is finished cooking, drain bowl but do not dry.
Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta quickly in a colander (do not shake off excess water) and add to warm pasta bowl. Toss the pasta with the bechamel and sprinkle 3/4 cup cheese over the pasta and toss quickly. If pasta seems dry, toss with some cooking water. Serve immediately with additional cheese on the side.