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September 6, 2023
A Cacio e Pepe Gets Drunk and Breaks the Rules

Pecorino, spaghetti, black pepper, and a whole bottle of red wine is the Molly Baz way.

Cacio e pepe, traditionally speaking, is a monument to the powers of restraint. It has just four ingredients: Pecorino Romano, freshly crushed black pepper, pasta water, and pasta. You could—and some recipes do—add butter or oil or heavy cream, but this is controversial. Cacio e pepe purists are near religious in their fervor. The extra fat is unnecessary, the argument goes; the whole art of cacio e pepe is to create profound velvet creaminess using only starchy water and finely grated cheese. “If you tell someone who lives in Rome that you put cream in cacio e pepe,” the Italian chef Simone Zanoni once told the BBC, “He’ll jump on your head!”  

Molly Baz is not a cacio e pepe purist. (Molly Baz also does not live in Rome.) Her latest cookbook, More Is More, is a celebration not of excess but of exuberance, of rule-breaking and culinary self-determination. “I’m kind of an anti-puritanical gal when it comes to cooking,” she explains. “The whole book kinda blows up the notion of sticking to a script.” 

Enter: drunken cacio e pepe, Baz’s riff on the Roman classic. Like the original, it uses pecorino, lots of freshly crushed black pepper, pasta water, and pasta. Unlike the original, it also calls for butter, garlic, and—most important—one entire bottle of red wine, reduced over high heat until it is mostly cooked off and the liquid is reduced to ¾ cup. It’s not that she can’t appreciate the beauty of tradition, but, “having made classic cacio e pepe some 75 times in my life, I reserve the right to mess around with it in my home kitchen,” she says. 

The result is still fundamentally cacio e pepe, at least in a spiritual sense. “This maximalist take does not undermine its identity at all,” Baz argues; it still has its trademark sharp and salty cheese sauce, and it’s still punctuated by peppery heat. Only, in keeping with her general philosophy, it is more than that. “The red wine lends this extreme savoriness and winey backbone—the kind of depth of flavor you might expect from a slow-cooked meat dish or a Bolognese-esque sauce,” she says, but it’s interrupted by the punch of garlic and the gentle creaminess of butter and “handfuls upon handfuls of sharp, nutty cheese.” It’s a cacio e pepe interpretation that is joyful and reckless and borderline “unhinged.”

Recipe: Drunken Cacio E Pepe

Rachel Sugar

Rachel Sugar is a writer in New York.