Recipe Review

A Few Restaurant Tricks Are the Secret to Maialino’s Dreamy, Creamy Cacio e Pepe

published Mar 20, 2023
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Cacio e pepe recipe by Maialino restaurant in a bowl on a marble surface
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Cacio e pepe is one of the signature dishes at Roman-style trattoria Maialino in New York City. I was optimistic about trying a version of the dish that is made the same way many times a day. I crossed my fingers that it would translate to my home kitchen.

This recipe employed a method of making the sauce I had yet to see. A full quart of pasta water is cooked down to make the sauce, versus a few ladlefuls like the other recipes. I was very curious to see if it would give me the rich and creamy sauce I was looking for, or something really watered-down.

How to Make Maialino’s Cacio e Pepe

This recipe starts by filling a pot with less water than typical for pasta to help encourage extra-starchy water. Once the pasta is cooked, six cups of the water is reserved and kept warm in a saucepan. The pasta is drained and the pot is wiped out to use to build the sauce.

The pepper is cooked in both olive oil and butter until fragrant. Pasta water is added and cooked down by half. More pasta water and the pasta are added. The water is cooked off again while stirring the pasta vigorously to draw out even more starch.

The pot is removed from the heat and more pasta water is stirred in. The grated cheese is added a handful at a time while continuing to stir vigorously.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

My Honest Review of Maialino’s Cacio e Pepe

This cacio e pepe is what I think of when I think of a comforting bowl of pasta. It was the dreamy, creamy sauce I was waiting for. There was not a clump anywhere to be found. The combination of cooking down the pasta water and vigorous stirring provided a starchy foundation for the cheese to incorporate. The pasta was creamy before I even added the cheese. And I really liked building the sauce in the pasta pot — it gave me more room to get in there and really stir without struggling with a pound or more of spaghetti in a bowl or skillet.

This recipe used a 6:1 ratio of Pecorino Romano to Grana Padano. I like the addition of the milder Grana Padano — the Pecorino was still very present, but mellowed out just a touch. The cheese ratio for this pasta was the lowest, but still ultra-creamy, thanks to the starch. I think it’s also important to note that the recipe offered both volume and weight measurements for the cheese. I opted to use the 6 ounces called for, which measured less than 2 cups for me versus the 3 cups stated in the recipe. There may be some discrepancy in the amount I ended up using and what the recipe actually intended, so I took half a point off for this. I took another half point off for the inclusion of both olive oil and butter. I quite liked both the flavor and smoothness they offered, but they’re not considered to be traditional. This recipe also had the highest amount of pepper, verging on almost too much.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If You Make Maialino’s Cacio e Pepe, a Few Tips

  1. Reduce the pasta cooking time by a minute or two before draining. It cooks again in the sauce.
  2. Pay attention to the visual cues when making the sauce. The recipe indicates it will take up to 9 minutes to cook down the sauce, but it took less than 4 minutes on my stove. 
  3. This sauce is quite peppery. Consider cutting the amount in half and adding more to taste.

Overall rating: 9/10