Recipe: Cacio e Pepe Popcorn

Recipe: Cacio e Pepe Popcorn

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Sheela Prakash
May 10, 2017
(Image credit: Michael Wiltbank)

While popcorn is usually relegated to mid-afternoon snack territory, it also makes for one of the fastest, fanciest cocktail bites around. It's unexpected — people associate it with 3 p.m. hunger pangs rather than something washed down with wine — and it's infinitely and deliciously adaptable.

My current go-to is inspired by one of my favorite pasta dishes: cacio e pepe. Sharp, salty Pecorino Romano cheese and biting black pepper join forces in an irresistible combination that lately has been seen in a whole lot of recipes beyond a bowl of spaghetti. Now popcorn is taking the combination for a spin and we've got the ideal bottle of wine to go with it.

A Pasta-Inspired Popcorn That's Sure to Be a Hit

The best appetizers are the ones that you can eat with your hands without much effort — that's why olives and mixed nuts always win. It's why popcorn wins too. This one feels like an upgrade from your usual snacking session, thanks to the freshly popped, warm kernels being tossed with lots of salty Pecorino cheese, fragrant black pepper, and a good drizzle of olive oil. Dot little bowls around your living room at your next party or let your friends grab at a big bowl at the center of your spread. Either way, it will likely be eaten up before the next glass of wine gets poured.

What Wine to Drink

When you're snacking on popcorn in the evening, a glass of wine is definitely in order. For this cacio e pepe version, my pick is Italian Sangiovese.

3 Great Bottles of Sangiovese Under $15

  • Piccini Chianti, Italy, $10.99
  • Antinori Santa Cristina Rosso Toscana, Italy, $10.99
  • Bevi Sangiovese, Italy, $14.99

Why Sangiovese Pairs Well

Sangiovese is the red grape that's found in Chianti and many other Italian red wines, mostly from the region of Tuscany. They say what grows together, goes together, so pairing a pasta-inspired popcorn with an Italian wine makes good sense. Inexpensive Sangiovese tends to be a medium-bodied, easy-drinking wine whose earthy characteristics pair well with the nutty flavor of Pecorino cheese and subtle heat of black pepper.

How to Throw a $20 Cocktail Party

There's nothing better than a fun and festive cocktail party with your friends — but hosting one definitely doesn't need to put a big dent in your wallet. This week, we're showing off six appetizer recipes and the budget-friendly wines that pair best with them to inspire you to throw an "Appy Hour" any night of the week.

Cacio e Pepe Popcorn

Makes about 8 cups; serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Fine salt

Place 2 tablespoons of oil and 3 kernels of the popcorn in a tall, large pot. Cover and heat over medium heat until all 3 kernels pop. Pour in the remaining kernels, cover the pot again, and shake to distribute. As the popcorn pops, shake the pot occasionally. Immediately remove from the heat once the popping slows to 2 to 3 seconds between pops.

Pour the popcorn into a large bowl. Remove any unpopped or partially popped kernels. Immediately toss the popcorn with the grated cheese, black pepper, and a big pinch of salt. Drizzle the mixture with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, toss it a few more times to combine, and serve.

Recipe Notes

  • Pepper amount: This popcorn has a nice, peppery kick, like cacio e pepe pasta. If you prefer it to be a bit more mild, feel free to reduce the black pepper to 1 1/2 teaspoons.
  • Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
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