Guiltless Macaroni and Cheese


For the past few weeks, I’ve been miserable, laid low by a nasty respiratory virus that just won’t quit.  Now, in week 3, my energy and appetite are happily returning, and I’ve been craving comfort food.  Because I don’t want excess weight to compound my misery, I’ve been searching for low fat versions of comfort classics.   So, I’m happy to share a recipe for a lower calorie version of macaroni and cheese that I ate in Rome in October.

Made with only 3 ingredients, pasta cacio e pepe is quick, economical, and easy.  It also has far fewer calories than its American cousin–the delightfully rich macaroni and cheese made with milk, cheddar cheese, and flour.  Although traditionally made with spaghetti, pasta cacio e pepe is adaptable to virtually any type of pasta.  The key though is the cheese.  I’ve seen some versions with pecorino cheese, but Romans use caciocavallo cheese, which tastes like a buttery, yet pungent version of cheddar.  It gives the necessary punch to what very well could be a bland dish.  I feared that I’d never find it in my local grocery store, but it was there, nearly hidden among the wedges of parmegiana cheese.  Another necessary ingredient is freshly ground pepper.  One option is to add a drizzle of olive oil at the very end.

There’s nothing more soothing on a sick day than a warm bowl of creamy pasta comfort.  If you have other low-fat versions of comfort classics, please share!

Pasta Cacio e Pepe

(Pasta with cheese and pepper)

  • 14 oz spaghetti or any type of pasta
  • 1 cup grated caciocavallo cheese

Boil the spaghetti until al dente.  Then drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid.  Put the pasta in a bowl and sprinkle generously with the cheese and pepper.  Add sufficient pasta-cooking water to melt the cheese and become slightly creamy.  Mix thoroughly and serve hot.

Source:  Culinaria Italy:  Pasta, Pesto, Passion by Claudio Piras and Ruprecht Stempell.  H.F. Ullmann Publishers, page 338.


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