Italian is such a beautiful language isn’t it? I mean, it is when other people speak it, or I hear its lyrical melodies echoing in my head. Unfortunately, when I try to say “Orecchiette Cacio e Pepe” I sound like Demothenses mid marble mouth. Like with dancing, singing, or long division, I am a bit of a disaster. The good news is, my mouth is too full of the stuff to worry about pronouncing it properly.
This is one of those “make it your way” recipes. Sure, I’m using butternut squash and kale, but you could just as easily use spinach and pumpkin, or roasted cherry tomatoes and basil; the point is that there are few things that don’t taste great with cacio e pepe as the background. Cacio e pepe means “cheese and pepper” literally, and honestly, you could forgo all of the extra ingredients I included and still have a delicious, rich dish, just with the base sauce. The foundation is created by sautéing freshly ground black pepper, adding a little starchy pasta water, and then adding plenty of grated cheese to the pasta in the pan. You just stir, stir, stir, and before you know it, the cheese is melted and gooey, and you have a spicy, cheesy, absolutely delicious sauce. Enjoy!
3 cups squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, halved and sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
kosher or sea salt
1/2 pound orecchiette pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus additional for serving
2 cup Tuscan kale leaves; torn or chopped into 1 inch pieces
4 ounces burrata, roughly chopped
Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Put the squash and sliced onion on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast until tender and lightly browned, about 40 minutes, stirring once in the middle.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add 1 or 2 tablespoons salt and the orecchiette; cook until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; when the pan is hot, add the ground pepper and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir together until the butter melts, then remove from the heat.
Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water in a heatproof measuring cup. Put the sauté pan over medium heat again. Add the pasta to the pan along with the squash, onion, and the pecorino; toss it all together. Add some of the reserved water, a few tablespoons at a time, until the cheese melts into a creamy sauce; you might not use it all.
Stir the kale leaves and burrata into the hot pasta, and stir until the leaves are wilted. Serve with additional cheese on the side.