Cacio e Pepe – “cheese and pepper,” literally translated – is kind of a Stonehenge of recipes. In that it’s sacred. Revered. Hallowed. Meant to be untouched.
Today I’m revealing my inner rebel and not only seriously messing with the recipe, but I’m also calling it Vegan Cacio e Pepe.
I know, I know … besides the fact that it’s sacred, there’s also this: If Cacio e Pepe doesn’t have cheese in it, it’s not really Cacio e Pepe.
But here’s the deal. I used to love me some Cacio e Pepe (and its variations). Something fierce. Then I went all dairy free and whatnot, and here I am, wanting Cacio e Pepe and not being able to have it. Bad things, good people.
So I thought I’d try something that just might satisfy my craving. I thought, what if I tossed a whole slew of cashew parm into some pasta and cracked a bunch of black pepper over the top? Would it satisfy my lust for Cacio e Pepe?!
The first time I took a bite, my eyes went wide. Good wide. “DAMN, that’s AWESOME” wide. Seriously, this stuff is so, so delicious and tastes shockingly close to the authentic stuff. But without a speck of cheese! For real!
I think it’s worthy of being called the real thing (well, preceded by the word “vegan,” of course) even if it really isn’t. Lord knows I’m more than happy sticking with this version and never going back to the original.
If you’ve tried cashew parmesan, you already know it’s kind of magical stuff. Basically, you grind cashews with nutritional yeast, salt, and a little garlic powder if you like. The taste comes seriously close to the real thing, and it’s incredible on everything. Soup. Pizza. And oh mylanta, popcorn.
And mixed straight in with pasta and black pepper, too.
For this recipe, I use whole wheat pasta. It also works well with angel hair pasta and, I’d imagine, gluten-free brown rice pasta (I haven’t tried it with gluten-free pasta yet, but I will report back as soon as I have. An excuse to commit blasphemy yet again?! I’m there!)
Vegan Cacio e Pepe
For the cashew parmesan:
- 1/2 cup raw whole cashews
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
For the Vegan Cacio e Pepe:
- 1/2 pound 8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup cashew parmesan
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (plus more to taste if desired)
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt (plus more to taste if desired)
- Make the cashew parmesan. Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and pulse just until a fine meal forms. It should resemble fine bread crumbs. Set aside.
- Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to instructions. Before draining, reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Drain.
- Assemble the Cacio e Pepe. Pour the pasta into to a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil. Top with 1/2 cup cashew parmesan, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Using tongs or two wooden spoons, toss to evenly coat pasta. Add pasta water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, and toss again, until the pasta is moistened and a bit saucy. A true sauce doesn't form as it does with an authentic Cacio e Pepe - it will be a bit more dry (but still delicious!) Taste and add additional salt and pepper if desired.
- Sprinkle remaining cashew parmesan over the top and give it an extra turn or two of cracked pepper for good measure. Serve.