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Orecchiette Cacio e Pepe with Parsnips

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orecchiette, parsnips cacio e pepe recipe

When I first made classic pasta cacio e pepe — with cheese and pepper — I referred to a recipe by Mario Batali, which calls for 1/4 cup black pepper to sauce one pound of spaghetti.

Whoa, baby! I like it hot, but turns out that was too much pepper for me.

While I was moving things around on my spice shelves in search of black pepper, an avalanche of other containers came raining down.

I started to put everything back when my hand landed on a jar of green peppercorns. They’re such a pretty color, unlike the color you usually find in a basic black peppercorn, and I rarely find myself needing to put green peppercorns in anything.

Why not? It was one small Eureka! moment in a sea of not so many. I located some whole white pepper to make a trio of color, along with fennel seeds. The mix turned out much more palatable; perfect for the pasta I was planning to make with roasted parsnips.

Parsnips peeled on a cutting board with a knife.

I love orecchiette pasta, “little ears’ in Italian. Their cute shape serves as a cup to hold whatever they’re sauced with; in this case chunks of crusty, caramelized parsnips in peppery-sharp, creamy sauce.

The fennel seeds in my peppercorn rainbow remind me a little of the crunchy pepper biscuits I find in bakeries when I visit home in Rhode Island.

I’ve made taralli that came close to duplicating their flavor; minus the black pepper. I always find myself packing bags of pepper biscuits to take back with me, stashed in the freezer to tide me over until my next visit.

tre-pepe
orecchiette-little ears

History of cacio e pepe

Cacio e pepe is a dish with deep roots in ancient Rome. The production of Pecorino Romano cheese dates back more than 2,000 years and black pepper was a commodity in the early days of the spice trade.

Fun fact: It’s said that Attila the Hun demanded over one ton of black pepper as ransom while he ransacked the city of Rome. 

You kind of get the feeling he’d have gladly tucked into a super-sized plate of spaghetti, seasoned with a pound of pepper. If only spaghetti had existed yet.

Orrecchiette pasta in a bowl with parsnips and cacio e pepe sauce.

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orecchiette pasta and parsnip cacio e pepe

Orecchiette Cacio e Pepe with Parsnips

Karen Tedesco
Peppery cacio e pepe pasta with orecchiette, parsnips and greens. Rustic and healthy vegetarian recipe.
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Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Course Pasta
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2-3 small parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  • ½ pound orecchiette pasta
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon each whole green and white peppercorns, or use an additional teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus additional for serving
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Lacinato or Tuscan kale leaves; about a handful, torn into pieces

Instructions 

  • Heat the oven to 425 (220 C) degrees.
  • Put the parsnips on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast until tender and lightly browned, 15 -20 minutes.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 3 tablespoons kosher salt and the orecchiette and cook until al dente.
  • While the pasta is cooking, put all the peppercorns in an electric spice or coffee grinder and pulse until coarsely ground (if you don’t have a coffee grinder dedicated to spices, crush the pepper in a manual pepper grinder or a mortar and pestle).
  • Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the peppercorns and whole fennel seeds and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir together until the butter melts, then remove from the heat.
  • Drain the pasta, reserving ¾ cup of the cooking water in a heatproof measuring cup. Add the pasta to the sauté pan along with the parsnips and both cheeses and toss it all together. Add some of the reserved water, a few tablespoons at a time, until the cheese melts into a creamy sauce; you might not use all the water.
  • Stir the kale leaves into the hot pasta to wilt them. Serve with additional cheese on the side.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 477kcal | Carbohydrates: 59g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 25mg | Sodium: 365mg | Potassium: 482mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 185IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 337mg | Iron: 2mg
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Hey, I’m Karen

Creator of Familystyle Food

I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about making cooking fun and doable, with easy to follow tested recipes and incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.

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11 Comments

  1. Thank you for a simple and delicious recipe. I have never cooked with Parsnips but will give this a try this week. It can only be delicious.
    Auguri,
    Barbara Giacometti

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever thought to make pasta with roasted parsnips! It sounds amazing. 🙂

    1. Thanks Eileen. Parsnips and pasta seem a strange combo, don’t they? I was just reading that Ancient Roman soldiers took parsnips into battle during the winter months for sustenance, long before the potato was introduced from the New World. I had no idea!

  3. Rob lander says:

    I have GOT TO TRY this one. It sounds GREAT.

  4. This is gorgeous, Karen, and it sounds so perfect for this time of year!

    1. Thank you Katie. I do like those winter root vegetables. And pasta…well always.