“Cacio e Pepe” which literally translates into “cheese and pepper”, is a minimalistic Italian recipe stemming from few simple ingredients such as cheese and black pepper. The sharpness and salt from the Parmigiano-Reggiano makes a very nice contrast when combined with the delicateness of the scallops.
The first time I stumbled on “Cacio e Pepe“, was from the Netflix documentary “Chef’s Table”, with Chef Massimo Bottura. Chef Bottura owns restaurant Osteria Frencescana (currently ranks the 2nd Best Restaurant in the World of 2015. This is definitely in our bucket list of restaurants to eat!) located in Modena, Italy. He explained that the recipe came about after a series of earthquakes that devastated the Italian Emilia-Romagna region in May of 2012. The earthquakes shook and destroyed many cheese warehouses, resulting in thousands of wheels and millions of dollars worth of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano breaking and hitting the ground. Many of of these “orphaned”, cheese were used in creating “Risotto Cacio e Pepe”, where Pecorino-Romano and pasta are traditionally used.
Included in this blog post are 2 recipes. The first one teaches you how to perfectly sear scallops; the second one teaches you how to make Risotto Cacio e Pepe. In this recipe, I used Jamón Serrano and served it as is, as a bed for the seared scallops. The melt-in-your-mouth nutty jamón was amazing with the scallops. Instead of using a finishing salt, I used sea beans, or salicornia, instead. The sea beans added a delicate fresh salty-brine flavor, and I used it raw to garnish the scallops.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: less than 10minutes
1 pound of U10* Scallops or less depending on how much you need
2 tablespoons (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) of high smoke point** oil such as safflower, rice-bran, peanut or sunflower oil
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1-2 sprigs of aromatics such as fresh rosemary, thyme or any of your choice
salt and pepper to taste
- Rinse the scallops under cold water and pat dry using a paper towel. Generously season with salt and pepper.
- Heat the oil in a heavy stainless pan or skillet on medium-high heat until it is very hot and just lightly smoking. (Too much smoke means the pan is too hot!)
- Sear one flat side of the scallops for 1 minute and 30seconds. Do not touch the scallops until the searing time is done, until it forms a deep golden-brown crust. Never crowd the scallops and make sure there is PLENTY of space in between for that perfect sear. I always use a stopwatch/timer for this.
- Using tongs, gently flip the scallops to the other side. Add the cold butter and sprigs of aromatics to pan. As the butter melts, slightly tilt the pan to one side and with a large spoon, scoop the fat and baste it over the scallops repeatedly for about 1 minute.
- Remove the scallops from the pan, and lightly sprinkle sea-salt on top.
*”U1o” means that a pound of these scallops are about “under 10” pieces. U10 and U15 scallops are the best for searing due to the size. If using smaller scallops, use a shorter cooking/searing time.
**High smoke point oils have higher heat capacity before they start smoking. These oils are perfect for a high-temperature sear.
Risotto “Cacio e Pepe”
Recommendation: Make the Parmesan Broth the night before.
8 -10 cups of Parmesan Broth (recipe included)
1 1/4 pounds of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
8 cups of cold water
2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cup of Vialone Nona Rice or Arborio Rice
2 medium shallots, minced
freshly grated black peppercorns to taste
Italian parsley, chopped for garnish
- To make the Parmesan Broth, combine 1 pound of grated aged Parmigiano-Reggiano (with the cheese rind included) and 8 cups of water in a 6 quart pot (or larger) over medium-low heat, hot but not simmering/boiling. Stir frequently until the cheese melts into the broth and it becomes “stringy”. Remove from heat and let it cool to room temperature. When cooled, cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight, the longer it sits, the more flavourful the broth becomes. When the broth is ready, it should have separated into 3 layers – the “top” creamy layer, the “middle” broth layer and the “bottom” cheese solids layer. Carefully remove the “top” layer and set aside, this layer is the delicious Parmesan Cream needed at the end of the recipe. Strain the Parmesan broth and set aside. Discard the bottom layer.
- To make the risotto, heat Parmesan broth in a separate sauce pan and keep warm.
- In a large heavy sauce pan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sautée the shallots until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir well until the rice is well-coated with the oil, about 3 minutes. Add the warmed Parmesan broth 1/2 cup at at time, stirring frequently, and making sure the rice absorbs the broth before adding more. Keep on adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time while stirring frequently until the rice becomes “al dente”, tender, and creamy, about 20-25 minutes. You may or may not have to use the whole Parmesan broth, but, if the risotto becomes too dry, you can always stir in 1/4 cup of broth at a time to your desired consistency.
- Stir in the Parmesan Cream, and add freshly cracked black pepper to taste. Top with the remaining 1/4 pound of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or parsley if using.
- Adapted from Chef Massimo Bottura’s recipe on Saveur Magazine.
- The original recipe calls for 2 pounds of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, but since a pound is almost $30, I opted for using just 1 pound.