I hope you’re all hungry because I made us something incredible! Elote inspired Cacio e Pepe. Take a second and let that sink in, excited yet? You should be. It’s awesome.
Let’s back up a second and dig into the inspiration for this dish. I was recently reminded that the LA street food scene is extraordinary. I mean seriously, there are some things that you should probably ONLY be getting from the street (as Jonathan Gold always reminded us, “the taco honors the truck.”) My friends recently convinced me to pay a late night visit to the Corn Man on a weeknight under pretense that we’d be home by midnight (we weren’t). Despite having to drag myself into work exhausted the next day, I would gladly wait an hour for corn on the cob all over again as long as the Corn Man was preparing it. I never thought I could enjoy THAT much mayo in one sitting so much, or feel so overloaded after eating a vegetable, and I mean that in the best way possible. The heat from the cayenne and richness from the butter and mayo was so perfectly balanced by the sweetness of the corn; I’ve never tasted anything like it. And for only $2.50 a cob I’ll most definitely be returning.
I mean seriously? Look at all that cheese!
So let’s talk about this pasta. I like to make sure that my kitchen is always equipped to make a few dishes:
- Scrambled eggs, duh
- Spaghetti Aglio e Olio
- Any type of risotto
- Pasta Cacio e Pepe
Obviously, today we’re going to be digging in (pun kind of intended) to number four. Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) is a traditional Roman dish that’s basically Italian mac n’ cheese with tons of black pepper and parm. No complaining here. It’s an amazing pantry staple dish because all you need is pasta (traditionally spaghetti but anything will do in a pinch), butter, parmesan cheese, and pepper – if you don’t have those things in your kitchen at all times, change that. Cacio e Pepe is the first dish I made when I moved into my apartment because it was literally the only thing I was equipped to make.
Like any mixture of carbs and cheese, Cacio e Pepe will never disappoint. That being said, it’s a pretty heavy dish. I was inspired when I saw this spin on Cacio e Pepe from none other than Half Baked Harvest (like Cacio e Pepe, HBH will never let me down). I thought about really closely adapting it to incorporate even more freshness and brightness by adding peas, roasted brussels sprouts, and fresh mint. Which by the way would be a great idea so let me know if any of you try that!
I ended up going in a different direction because I had tons of ingredients left from a failed recipe idea that I tried earlier this week (I’m determined to perfect that one so hold tight – it’s coming and it’s gonna be fun). I don’t want to give too much away, but it was also inspired by Elote. I couldn’t get the Elote concept out of my head and the more I thought about it, Elote and Cacio e Pepe have one major thing in common – TONS of parmesan cheese. So I figured, why can’t I combine them? The answer is I can. And I did. You’re welcome.
This recipe takes the cooking technique and basic concept of Cacio e Pepe and throws in all the flavor excitement of Elote. I swapped out the traditional black pepper for a mix of paprika and cayenne, which you can totally play around with to find the perfect heat level. I also went ahead and swapped out the spaghetti for rigatoni and I promise you’ll be obsessed once you taste the rigatoni tubes filled with the sweet corn. Top this beauty with roasted corn, cotija cheese to get the more traditional Mexican flavor, and load it up with lime and I promise you’ll have the best weeknight dinner full of summer flavors and fall comfort. And really, what could be better this time of year?
Elote and Cacio e Pepe have one major thing in common – TONS of parmesan cheese. So I figured, why can’t I combine them? The answer is I can. And I did. You’re welcome.
- 3-4 ears of corn husks removed
- 1 lb rigatoni
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter divided
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 cups parmesan cheese grated
- Zest of 1 lime
- 1/2 cup cotija cheese
- 1/4 cup cilantro roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 350ºF and line a baking sheet with foil. Place the corn on baking sheet and bake until corn is soft and kernels begin to blister, roughly 30 minutes. When cool, cut kernels from corn husks.
In a large pot, boil heavily salted water. Cook pasta according to package instructions, but remove 2 minutes shy of cook time. Prior to straining, reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water for sauce.
While pasta is cooking and corn is roasting, begin to make the sauce. In a large skillet, melt 2 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Add paprika and cayenne and cook until mixture is fragrant, roughly 1 minute. Add 3/4 cup reserved pasta water to mixture.
When pasta is cooked, transfer directly into the pasta water mixture. Add the parmesan cheese and remaining butter to pasta mixture and toss until cheese melts and coats the pasta. Thin sauce with additional pasta water if needed.
Stir in lime zest, corn kernels, cotija cheese, and cilantro.
Serve immediately and enjoy!