Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

This Delicious Spinach Cacio e Pepe Spaghetti Is "Buttered Noodles" if Your Kids Ask

by 
Laura Scheck
March 29, 2021

I remember when my youngest, by far the pickiest eater I’ve ever met, would gobble up pesto-slathered noodles with abandon. I felt so proud in those moments, as if he hit the grand slam that won the state championship baseball game. And I breathed a sigh of relief knowing he’d get some nutrition from the basil, nuts and kale blended into a garlicky purée. But that was short lived. A few weeks after that he had developed a spidey sense my older son, the vegetarian, started referring to as “vegetable radar.”

It was then that we entered the buttered noodle pit of despair.

Unless you’re some kind of magical parent with a unicorn child, you’ve either been there too, or you’ll find yourself there someday. The buttered noodle pit of despair is where, as you’ve likely guessed, your little one will eat basically nothing but buttered noodles. You’ll call it a phase and let it go for a while, thinking you’re so much more chill than those other high-strung moms. But eventually you’ll realize your kid hasn’t eaten a plant in like...weeks, and you’ll know it’s time to find a way out.

So, you find creative ways to sneak vegetables into dinner, and in some cases, that includes kneading greens directly into the pasta itself.

Enter Spinach Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe.

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Despite its popularity, I don’t recall eating “Cacio e Pepe” as a kid. I mean, sure, like most kids I ate pasta, plain, then doctored with butter and cheese by an Italian parent irritated by my “no sauce” phase. But here’s the thing: Those buttery, cheese-laden noodles children enjoy are a few culinary techniques away from one of the most crave-worthy dishes of all time — Cacio e Pepe. Translation? It’s merely pasta with cheese and pepper. But it’s so much more than that. The simplicity. The crassness. The indulgence.

And of course, the pepper. The freshly cracked black pepper toasted gently in butter and oil and thickened into a gravy with the pasta cooking liquid is what makes this the $24-upscale-Italian-restaurant-plate and not the bowl of buttered noodles you feed your younger kid nearly every day because it’s all he will eat.

I first discovered that Cacio e Pepe was on another level entirely when made with fresh pasta. Once I did that, there was no turning back. So, I ran with it, and used fresh homemade spinach noodles. The result is perfection - everything you love about Cacio e Pepe but with a pile of greens served up in herbaceous noodles and gorgeous contrasting colors. You can substitute fresh kale and use this same method for adding other vegetables to handmade pasta as well. 

Bonus: I’ve also worked out this recipe to ensure you only use one pot.

One Pot Cacio e Pepe Spinach Spaghetti

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Serves 2-3

Ingredients

5 oz. (1 box) Fifth Season spinach. If using kale, remove and discard stems, providing approximately 125 grams of leaves

Kosher salt 

2 extra large eggs, room temperature

2½ cups all purpose or 2¼ cups “00” + 1 tbsp flour (or 310 grams)

Semolina flour or more all purpose flour for dusting

1 cup grated Pecorino Romano (you can sub Parmesan Reggiano or blend of the two cheeses if necessary, but Pecorino is traditional)

2-3 tbsp unsalted butter

1-2 tbsp olive oil

3-4 tbsp freshly cracked black pepper

Parsley leaves, optional

 | 
 | 
Serves 2-3

Ingredients

5 oz. (1 box) Fifth Season spinach. If using kale, remove and discard stems, providing approximately 125 grams of leaves

Kosher salt 

2 extra large eggs, room temperature

2½ cups all purpose or 2¼ cups “00” + 1 tbsp flour (or 310 grams)

Semolina flour or more all purpose flour for dusting

1 cup grated Pecorino Romano (you can sub Parmesan Reggiano or blend of the two cheeses if necessary, but Pecorino is traditional)

2-3 tbsp unsalted butter

1-2 tbsp olive oil

3-4 tbsp freshly cracked black pepper

Parsley leaves, optional

Ingredients

5 oz. (1 box) Fifth Season spinach. If using kale, remove and discard stems, providing approximately 125 grams of leaves

Kosher salt 

2 extra large eggs, room temperature

2½ cups all purpose or 2¼ cups “00” + 1 tbsp flour (or 310 grams)

Semolina flour or more all purpose flour for dusting

1 cup grated Pecorino Romano (you can sub Parmesan Reggiano or blend of the two cheeses if necessary, but Pecorino is traditional)

2-3 tbsp unsalted butter

1-2 tbsp olive oil

3-4 tbsp freshly cracked black pepper

Parsley leaves, optional

Directions

1. Blend spinach and eggs in a blender or food processor on the highest speed until smooth. You should have about 1 cup purée.

2. Make the spinach spaghetti dough: Sift flour onto the work surface into a large mound. Make a well with high walls in the middle. Into the well, pour the spinach and egg mixture. With a fork, stir the spinach mixture in a circular motion, slowly incorporating the flour. Once most of the flour is incorporated and you have a wet paste, set the fork down.

3. Combine the ingredients with your hands, folding it into itself to capture all flour with the moist mixture. Scrape up any stray pieces of flour or dough and work into the dough. Form dough into a ball and set aside while you clear the work surface with the bench scraper.

4. On the cleared work surface, knead the dough with your hands for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Add more flour a sprinkling at a time, if the dough is wet or sticky. Add water one teaspoon at a time if the dough is dry or floury. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for a minimum of 30 minutes before shaping.

5. Roll and cut the spaghetti:

By hand: With a rolling pin, roll the dough (all at once or in portions) to about 1.5-2 mm thick. Liberally flour the rolled out sheet(s) of dough. Allow to rest uncovered to cure (dry) for 5-10 minutes. Loosely roll or accordion-fold the sheets and then using a sharp knife, cut into ribbons about 1.5-2 mm wide.

By machine: Divide the dough into quarters. Use the sheeting tool of your pasta machine to roll the dough to 1.5-2 mm thick or setting number 3 or 4. Dust with flour and allow to rest uncovered to cure (dry) for 5-10 minutes. Switch to the spaghetti or tonnarelli attachment to make noodles. Feed the sheets through the cutter, flouring generously before, during, and after the noodles emerge from the cutter.

For both, immediately coat the noodles with copious amounts of flour. Twirl the noodles into a loose nest and transfer to a floured sheet pan to dry. Or hang on a pasta drying rack. Allow to dry 30 minutes to 1 hour.

6. Cook the noodles in salted boiling water until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of pasta liquid. In the same emptied pot, heat the butter and olive oil. When the butter melts, add the black pepper and toast for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Gradually stir in most of the reserved pasta liquid. Bring to a simmer and allow to thicken to a gravy-like consistency. Gradually add the cheese, whisking constantly. Turn off the heat. Add the pasta and more pasta liquid one tablespoon at a time if needed and add more black pepper to taste. 

7. Serve with torn leaves of parsley, additional grated cheese and cracked pepper if desired.

Note on freezing: You can freeze the uncooked noodles. After shaping the noodles and dusting with flour, arrange in loose nests on a flour dusted sheet pan or platter. Put the sheet pan in the freezer (uncovered is fine) for about 2 hours until the nests are solid. Transfer to a freezer safe container or freezer bags. When cooking frozen noodles, remove from the freezer while boiling water and cook an extra minute or so.

About the Author

Laura Scheck

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