The more I cook with my kids, the more fun I have with them in the kitchen. One of our favorite “go to” meals is Cacio e Pepe. It’s a very simple dish, and everyone in our house loves it. My favorite way to serve it is to top it with loads of roasted vegetables and fresh herbs.
Since I have to heat up the fragrant black pepper oil and cook the pasta in boiling water, I let the kids handle all of the vegetable chopping with their kid-safe knives. The goal in cooking with them is always to let them do as much as possible, and to not correct what doesn’t need correcting. In the case of chopping the vegetables, there’s really no wrong way to do it, so it’s a great opportunity for me to just observe and not offer them too much instruction. I’ve found that if I give them space, they are much more willing to actually ask for help when they need it.
One thing I always do before giving them free reign of the kitchen counter is to clean it well. I don’t set out to clean the whole kitchen before we begin cooking together; if I did that we’d never get to the actual cooking! I just make sure that the space we’re about to use is clean enough that we have a calm, less chaotic work environment. For this recipe I cleared off one counter, set it up with the washed vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, and zucchini), and a pre-chopped onion (they’re too hard for the kids to cut with their kid-safe knives and tend to make their eyes burn).
With the oven pre-heating, the kids chopped their veggies, and piled them onto the rimmed baking sheet. They drizzled the lot with olive oil, and seasoned it with salt and pepper. When one of them suggested we add some fresh herbs from the backyard, I agreed. It wasn’t what we’d originally planned for the recipe, but it’s wonderful to let them take the reigns and ownership of a dish, dinner, or recipe.
Once the vegetables were sprinkled with a little rosemary and thyme, they went into the oven and I prepped the rest of the ingredients which then, off the heat, the kids helped to stir together — another great tip, not just of this recipe, but for may others. So much can be prepped before it is heated which adds to the list of things they can do, and reduces the list of things they can’t, which, in my opinion, is where empowerment and skill in the kitchen starts.
Cacio e Pepe
1-½ lbs Bucatini (spaghetti will work, too, but Bucatini is best)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for roasting the vegetables
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more for roasting the vegetables
2-½ cups finely ground Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan)
1 small head broccoli, trimmed and very roughly chopped
1 small head cauliflower, trimmed and very roughly chopped
1 large yellow onion, halved and roughly sliced
1 zucchini, trimmed, halved and sliced
A bit of fresh thyme and rosemary (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Toss all the chopped vegetables and herbs with olive oil, a bit of salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, tossing occasionally, until deeply golden and browned.
In a large saucepan, heat the 3 Tbsp of olive oil over low heat with the 2 tsp of black pepper until fragrant. Add in the butter and melt. Set aside.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the Bucatini and cook until al dente. Before draining, reserve a teacup full of the starchy pasta water. Drain the pasta. Add a splash of the pasta water to the pot with the pepper-butter-oil mixture. Add the pasta and toss to coat. Add in the cheese and toss/stir together with tongs, adding a Tbsp at a time of the pasta water until the consistency is smooth and creamy and the pasta is coated.
Transfer to bowls, top with the roasted vegetables, and enjoy.
Serves 2 adults, 2 kids, and a pasta-loving baby.
Kacie McMackin is a food blogger, writer and photographer, and founder of gorgeinthegorge.com.