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10.23.2005

A state of melt

The last time I was this sick was 12 years ago, during the Christmas holidays of my freshman year of high school. Though my memories of the time are understandably—and blessedly—hazy, I do remember the key points: I spent a week lying on the couch in my family’s den; I sucked down a box or two of Comtrex; I lost eight pounds; and I got to wear my favorite green pseudo-punk bomber-jacket-inspired parka indoors. Those were the days, as they say.

There’s nothing like the first real flu of adulthood to make me look fondly upon the illnesses of my adolescence. Today, dear reader, I have two words for you: night sweats. And I’m not referring to the kind that can result in babies. I’ve been barricaded in my apartment since Thursday afternoon, with nothing to distract me but nausea, a sore throat, headaches, body aches, hot flashes, and the entire first season of America’s Next Top Model on DVD. It should be amply clear that I am not well.

But as with most things, sickness has its upsides. If nothing else, lying supine for the better part of three days does give a girl new perspective, literally and figuratively. And ever the optimist, I’ve chiseled a few gems of wisdom from the dark mineshaft of my disease.

#1: If you are sick and live alone in a city thousands of miles from both your mother and your boyfriend, crying about that fact makes things a lot better, or, at least, it frightens your mother and your boyfriend enough to make them call every two hours, which makes things a lot better.

#2: An ice-cold glass of tangerine-flavored Emer’gen-C is unspeakably delicious, especially when you have no clothes left to remove but are still sweating.

#3: A slice of buttered toast with honey is unspeakably delicious, period.

And #4: If you’re looking to expand your flu-vexed vocabulary beyond “night” and “sweat,” try cacio and pepe.


Cacio e pepe is shorthand for hot, wet spaghetti slicked with finely grated Pecorino Romano (cacio) and dusted heartily with freshly ground black pepper (pepe). Whether I am fit or frail, healthy or feeling like hell, a day that includes this elemental Roman peasant dish cannot be deemed bad. Even at my worst, salt, starch, and the dairy tang of sheep's milk cheese never fail to arouse a lusty jab from my fork.


In fact, though not normally one for exaggeration, I’d dare argue that this may be a perfect dish: round but not rich, lightly creamy but clean, laced with peppery heat, and fantastically easy to both prepare and consume with heavy eyelids and a hoarse throat. If cacio e pepe is properly made and promptly eaten, the cheese should be in a “state of melt,” according to Lynne Rossetto Kasper, as should the person eating it. It’s more satisfying than hot flashes and night sweats combined, and short of a state of wellness, I can’t think of anything more delicious.


Cacio e Pepe

Adapted from Gourmet, March 2003

I first wrote about cacio e pepe here about a year ago, but because I didn’t do it justice then—and because I’ve eaten it three times in the past three days—I feel it deserves to be revisited. And anyway, you know how I feel about anything involving cheese. This recipe serves four as a first course, although you can easily scale it down to feed one or two. It's more about method than measurement.

½ lb good-quality dried spaghetti*
2 ½ oz (¾ cup plus 2 Tbs) very finely grated good-quality Pecorino Romano, such as Sini Fulvi**
Freshly ground black pepper

Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.

While the spaghetti is cooking, fill a large glass or ceramic bowl with hot water to warm it. Just before the pasta is ready, drain the bowl but do not dry it.

Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water, and then drain the pasta quickly in a colander. Do not shake off the excess water. Dump the pasta into warm, barely wet bowl. Sprinkle ¾ cup cheese and about 3 Tbs cooking water evenly over the spaghetti, and toss it quickly but gently. If the pasta seems dry, add more cooking water. Divide the pasta among four plates, and finish it a few grinds of black pepper and a sprinkling of the remaining cheese. Serve immediately.


*Always buy pasta that has been extruded through old-fashioned bronze dies rather than Teflon ones. The slightly rough surface of the pasta will hold sauces better.

**Grate the cheese on the ragged-edged holes of a box grater; do not use the small teardrop-shaped holes you’re probably accustomed to using for a fine grate. You want to wind up with a sort of cheese powder, which makes for almost instant melting.

32 Comments:

Blogger Shauna said...

Molly! I had no idea you were this sick. You're fifteen minutes away from me, and it takes me reading this online to figure it out. I'm calling you right now.

but you heroic girl. You still managed to post beautiful photos of pasta? Ack! You're superhuman.

6:23 PM, October 23, 2005  
Anonymous nicole marie said...

I got home from the grocery store and brought up Orangette to find your roasted asparagus recipe (it's the only way I ever do asparagus now) and then... miracle of miracles! A quick recipe for pasta full of cheese and pepper! What more could I ask for? So I made both for dinner, and who knew six ingredients could taste so damned luxurious? It was a lifesaver, since I haven't had time to cook in over two weeks thanks to GRE studying and grad school applications...

thank you so much, Molly!

7:02 PM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Shauna, my friend, with this post as my witness, I promise that I am securely on the path to renewed health. I cannot yet say when I will arrive, but grrr, I will get there! P.S. Thank you, m'dear.

Nicole Marie, you're very welcome. I'm so glad to hear of your dinner success--and that I made miracles happen! I should get sick more often. Good luck on those nasty GREs and grad school apps; I've been there, and it ain't so pretty, or tasty.

7:58 PM, October 23, 2005  
Anonymous Gigi said...

Mon petit chou chou!
As I didn't venture to work on Friday, I had no idea you were stil holed away, sweating profusely. As the queen of many an annual flu and fever, I feel your pain and sympathize deeply. I can only hope that the girl-talk (to which you are always welcome) and first season of ANTM (to which you will now always be addicted) has helped to heal. And if not, that pasta looks like it would do the work of a medicine man (or woman, bien sur!). I find it hard to believe you were able to cook and post despite your misery. You are superhuman indeed! I so hope you are approaching full recovery and I will get to see you demain!

8:14 PM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger Clare Eats said...

Girl,
I know your pain, that was me whilst moving. :P

All I can recommend is make hot lemon and honey your friend.

Hugs, kisses and best wishes for your imporivng health

9:02 PM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger Nic said...

Oh dear! I hope you'll be back up to full strength soon, Molly. The pasta sounds delicious, but I've got to say that tea, chicken soup and cookies will always be my go-to sick foods. I'm such a traditionalist. Feel better!

9:19 PM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

Molly. There is nothing BUT NOTHING! shameful about ANTM. Do I now have permisiion to shit-talk with you about the girls? So, are we pro Elise or anti? Myself? Her attitude was a little too superior but I was still rooting for her tiny pretentious ass.

Oh yeah and the pasta--yuuuummm.

10:46 PM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

So sorry, I meant of course, Elyse.

10:49 PM, October 23, 2005  
Blogger TanTian said...

I am in a mini-version of your boat, my dear (a flu dinghy, perhaps?). Wishing you a speedy recovery and fully recovered taste-buds and sense of smell so as to better enjoy your kitchen creations.

12:41 AM, October 24, 2005  
Blogger ilva said...

I really hope that you feel better but if you manage to speak of cacio e pepe you must be! I just wanted to thank you for reminding me of this wonderful and simple pasta dish! I bought some cacio the other day and tonight it's cacio time!

1:41 AM, October 24, 2005  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Molly, my dear, how awful to be alone and sick! Did you at least have any of your gorgeous chocolate-ricotta muffins left to ease the pain? A college friend of mine used to swear by anything sweet and chocolatey as the best cure for any ailment, but I bet that if she'd tried your cacio e pepe she might have expanded her prescription. Strangely enough, a big bowl of something really delicious does seem to speed recovery, despite what modern medicine may claim!

4:46 AM, October 24, 2005  
Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Oh, Molly, having gone through this myself earlier this year (actually, it was my second grown-up flu and no easier than the first), I can totally sympathize! Night sweats, toast cravings (well, most any fairly bland carbs), making meals from pasta and cheese... yes, yes, and YES. (I survived on hash browns and potato chips and ginger tea, too, if that's any help.)

Glad you didn't mention migraines on top of that... add that to the combination of symptoms, and dying seems preferable! But I'm glad to hear you're on the mend. Perhaps Jimmy will bring you a luscious and nourishing breakfast come Sunday... something with lots of cheese? :)

Be well!

7:44 AM, October 24, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Molly, being sick and alone is so much worse than when you have either a man or your mother around to ease the pain. I will do the best I can to help you by sending you my "feel better" vibes. Your pasta sounds simple and delicious, but I'm sure that if you praised the glories of cheez whiz I'd find myself wanting to get me a jar.. Its Molly magic, I tell you!

9:20 AM, October 24, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

Oh Molly I am so sorry to hear you are sick! Get better really soon! Sending you healing thoughts! And of cheese:)

10:19 AM, October 24, 2005  
Blogger tara said...

Poor dear! I hope that these messages find you well on your way back to health. Honey and butter on toast really can work wonders, can't it? But I'm sure that the calls from Mother and Man were a sweet comfort unto themselves. Today is a gloomy Monday where I am, and both S and I seem to be feeling the drudgery of the say - slurping up a plate of hot, cheesy, pepper-spiked pasta seems like the only answer. I heartily echo the "superhuman" sentiments!

11:18 AM, October 24, 2005  
Blogger farmgirl said...

Even on the brink of death you are a brilliantly entertaining writer. Not to mention cook. Hope this note finds you thoroughly on the mend. : )

12:39 PM, October 24, 2005  
Anonymous becca said...

so sorry you are ill ... but, honestly, this does sound like the perfect meal and I have never until now been able to pull it off without oil ... thank you again for another fab recipe ... get better!!

6:40 PM, October 24, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Gigi, ma cherie, merci mille fois! As you saw today, I am indeed recovering, slowly but surely. And our discussion of pre-marital viruses and runny eyeballs helped tremendously, as did your help with my riveting press release for Poopity Poop. Crazy about you, as always.

Clare, thank you. This flu has indeed given me lots of quality time with my honey jar. Something tells me it will be a hard habit to break...

And thank you, Nic. I too am a great fan of chicken soup and homemade cookies, but in this instance, both were simply too much work for my woozy little self. If only L.A. were a little closer to Seattle, I would have requested a batch of your oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with tahini. Mmm...

Amy, I know, I know, I can only feign scorn for ANTM now. Really, all efforts to resist are in vain. And as for Elyse, I know, she's the million-dollar question. I too found myself rooting for her, despite her almost stupifying arrogance. She is so ethereally beautiful, and, as Tyra loved to point out, "so high-fashion." If she had pretended for even a minute that she actually wanted it, she could have won, don't you think? [Oh Amy, you've opened a big fat can of worms. Sooo glad we didn't stumble upon this topic over dinner in June. We might still be sitting at that table, gabbing away...]

TanTian, my dear partner in disease, I'm sending my best wellness vibes, feeble though they may be. I'll bet Mark makes a mean nurse, though, or that he at least does a good job of cheering your dinghy back to shore. Strange mixing of metaphors, I know. Sorry.

Ilva, it's my pleasure. I imagine that cacio e pepe must taste even better if you're actually standing on Italian soil...

Melissa, my appetite has been tentative, but I have been keeping up with my chocolate regime! Fear not! If nothing else, a bite of something satisfying brings relief from almost anything, I find. I imagine that a bowl of your hot chocolate could wipe away hours, if not days or weeks, of ickiness.

Baklava Queen, we really should try to time our sicknesses to coincide. It could save some trouble in the cooking department. Please pass the ginger tea, my dear, and thank you.

Michele, you're so sweet. I've been feeling a little better each day and was actually able to return to work today--a mixed blessing, I know! I like to imagine that I'm doing a sort of Molly Magic to tame my flu into submission. Keep your fingers crossed, mon amie...

Foodiechickie, thanks so much for the thoughts--and, of course, the cheese. You know how to treat a sick girl right.

Tara, thank you. I am indeed slowly recovering--enough, even, to be out in Seattle's now-gloomy-now-sunny moodswing weather today. I hear you on the fall dreariness! Ugh. Hope cacio e pepe cheered things a bit in your kitchen...

Farmgirl, thank you thank you. Mending is underway...

And Becca, thank you, and may you enjoy many happy and healthy bowls of cacio e pepe.

10:23 PM, October 24, 2005  
Anonymous sherri said...

aloha,

i chanced upon your blog by a wonderful stroke of luck. . .it's beautifully designed and very well written. i shall return :)

11:08 PM, October 24, 2005  
Anonymous Nicky said...

Dear Molly,
Get well soon! As far as I read the last comments, I'm rather late with my best wishes, you're already back on your feet? I really hope you are :)
Do I mix something up, or aren't you about to meet Maria over the next days? Have lots of fun - I'd love to join you guys, Seattle just isn't around the corner ;)

3:22 PM, October 25, 2005  
Blogger karin said...

Hi Molly, my spinache/pecorino/4 cheese blend panade variation turned our great and was very popular for the short time it lasted. I am making your red cabbage for a late Octoberfest dinner party tomorrow night. I hope you feel better soon so I can continue cooking my way through your repertoire!

3:50 PM, October 25, 2005  
Blogger megwoo said...

Poor girl! Get well soon...

When I'm sick I always have won-ton soup and this nasty, bitter Chinese tea my grandma give me. It tastes gross, but it makes me feel better.

Let me know if you need me to drop any by!

M

5:08 PM, October 25, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Well, thank you, sherri! And welcome.

Nicky, good wishes are never too late--and especially because, although I am slowly feeling better, I seem to have lost my sense of taste today! When I got home from work, I opened the cupboard for a piece of dark chocolate, and lo and behold, I could hardly taste it. Dinner was the same. Waaah. Let's hope I'm back to full-strength, tasting-wise, by Saturday, because I'm meeting Maria and Anika for donuts and coffee at Seattle's best local donut shop, Top Pot. We'll clink coffee cups in your honor, m'dear.

Karin, I'm so glad to hear that the panade was a success! And as for the red cabbage, excellent choice! I need to make some of that myself. Maybe as soon as I have my taste buds back...

Megan, you're so sweet to offer your grandma's tea! I'm going to try to make do without it for now, but if I'm still dragging come, oh, say, Friday, I will let you know. Thank you, neighbor!

9:14 PM, October 25, 2005  
Blogger pomegranate said...

Oohh, lovely creature. Getwellsoon. Imagine it, scrawled across an oversized greeting card with a turtle on the front.

9:53 PM, October 26, 2005  
Blogger dave said...

Hope you're feeling better Molly.

My sick food is pastina (teeny, tiny pasta) with butter and a trace of salt. That's it.

Dave

1:54 PM, October 28, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Aw, thank you, pomegranate. I'm pleased to report that your wishes--and the turtle's--seem to be working...

And Dave, so good to see you! Your pastina treatment sounds wonderful, so plain and delicious. I think I'd be wise to start a "Food Options When Sick" list, now that I've got a good number of soothing suggestions; but then again, that would require acknowledging that I might actually get the flu again. Right now, denial feels better.

7:02 PM, October 28, 2005  
Blogger lucette said...

What is it about AMNTM? I know I shouldn't love it, but I do.
When I had my first grownup flu (many years ago now), I was lucky enough to have my mother available--she came over, cleaned the house (without commenting on its state), made soup, took care of the babies. I still remember how heavenly it was to lie on the couch and not have to worry about anything except being sick.

6:45 AM, October 29, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Lucette, oh, how I wish my mother could have come over! ANTM certainly helped pass the time, but because it involved neither hugs nor soup, it wasn't particularly comforting. But I know, isn't it horrifyingly irresistable?

10:46 PM, October 30, 2005  
Blogger Marty52 said...

There is nothing better than this... totally my favorite comfort food. Yummy!

4:02 PM, March 06, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Glad to hear it, Marty52!

6:55 PM, March 06, 2007  
Blogger Michael said...

I love this recipe!! Not only is it delicious, but my (Italian) mother's maiden name is Pepe, which makes me like the dish all the more. just taught a friend to make it and decided to google "cacio e pepe" for the heck of it, and this blog entry came up.

Beautiful photos, and I like the idea of using the pasta water for moisture (as opposed to olive oil, which I've always done). I'll give it a shot the next time I make it.

7:50 PM, August 29, 2008  
Anonymous Kara said...

Two things: Try mizithra cheese in this. It is absolutely to die for. I love romano, but mizithra has a fantastic distinctive flavor that I can never get enough of.

Less important, but still important: the link to this on your recipe list is wrong. I had to search the google to find it!

6:55 PM, March 15, 2012  

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