What We’re Cooking This Week: Cacio e Pepe Cauliflower

The minimalist cheese-and-pepper recipe has exploded in popularity in the past decade.

Cacio e Pepe Cauliflower Photo by Jim Dixon.

Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.

Cacio e pepe, Roman dialect for “cheese and pepper,” has been flavoring pasta for a few thousand years, but it’s become ubiquitous only in the last couple of decades. These days you can find the combination of salty cheese and black pepper on everything from doughnuts to fried rice.

Some say the rapid rise came after the 2012 earthquakes that tumbled thousands of wheels of cheese from their aging racks in the Italian city of Parma, resulting in famous chef Massimo Bottura’s viral recipe for risotto cacio e pepe. Others point to the 2010 Rome episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show No Reservations, where he scarfs down a bowl and says it could be “the greatest thing in the history of the world.”

But cacio e pepe’s popularity is most likely due to the fact that it can make almost anything delicious. Cauliflower, like pasta, a culinary tabula rasa, is another vehicle. If it’s roasted, it works even better. But don’t bother with the fussy directions found in most recipes for “separating the cauliflower into florets.” Just chop it up by setting it stem-down on a cutting board and slicing about 1/2 inch thick, then cut the slices coarsely. Chop the thick core, too; once it’s cooked, nobody will know it’s in there, and it makes up about 25% of the weight of the head.

One last tip: Once roasted, the average head of cauliflower is barely enough for two enthusiastic eaters. Plan accordingly.

Cacio e Pepe Cauliflower

1 cauliflower, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon kosher-style sea salt

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine olive oil, salt and chopped cauliflower in a large bowl and toss to coat. Spread the mix out on a sheet pan, put it in the oven, and cook, stirring once or twice, for about 45 minutes or until the cauliflower is nicely browned (or on the edge of burnt if that’s how you roll).

Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle on the cheese and black pepper, and use a couple of spoons to gently mix. Taste and add salt if necessary, then serve immediately.

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