I was going to call this Cacio e Lemon Pepe Orecchiette, but I figured someone out there would have a rage stroke over it because: 1) cacio e pepe isn’t made with lemon; 2) cacio e pepe isn’t made with Parmesan cheese; 3) cacio e pepe isn’t made with butter; and 4) cacio e pepe isn’t made with orecchiette. So let’s just call this a very loose adaptation of the Italian classic.
Why Parmesan? Well, the traditional version uses Romano cheese, but I haven’t been able to find a vegetarian version of that locally, so I opt for Parmesan instead (which, as I explain in this post, can be vegetarian if it’s not made in Italy). And I swapped out the spaghetti with orecchiette because spaghetti is unwieldy and I’d rather not have Little Pea with noodles plastered to her body by the end of the meal. Orecchiette is the perfect pasta for toddlers, in my humble opinion, because it’s not too small to pick up with fingers, but it’s not too big to need more than one bite or pre-cutting by mom or dad. Also, orecchiette means “little ears,” which is adorable…but I guess a little macabre if you think about it too much. Let’s not!
When I started this blog, I kind of debated about what kinds of recipes to post here. If it’s vegetarian cooking for kids, does it have to be all tots and mac & cheese and fries? Is that what people expect? But ultimately, I decided to be true to what I cook for my family, even if some of those things aren’t necessarily considered “kids’ foods”—because what is a kids’ food anyway? If a kid eats it, isn’t it for kids? Pasta with black pepper might not be something you’d think to prepare for children, but give it a try—you can always go easy on the pepper or omit it while cooking and add it to the adult portions after the fact if you’re nervous about it, but Little Pea left no trace of this on her plate, and that was with a full teaspoon of black pepper in the recipe.
I like rounding out our pasta dinners with a hefty serving of vegetables, so I roasted an orange cauliflower with olive oil, salt and pepper and served that on the side. The nutty flavor of roasted cauliflower is a good pairing for this pasta, so I highly recommend it—but really, any vegetable would work here, or even some cooked chickpeas for added protein.
Yields 4 servings
This is the best kind of dinner: a 5-ingredient meal that takes minutes to make and that the whole family will love.
5 minPrep Time
15 minCook Time
20 minTotal Time
- 8 ounces dried orecchiette
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Zest from 1 lemon
- Cook the orecchiette according to package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of cooking water.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the orecchiette and toss to coat. Sprinkle the cheese over the pasta and pour 1/4 of the cooking liquid into the skillet; stir until the cheese and water have formed a sauce and the pasta is well-coated, adding more liquid if needed.
- Sprinkle the black pepper over the pasta and stir. (Start with 1/2 teaspoon, taste, and add more if desired—we like to use a full teaspoon.) Remove the skillet from the stovetop.
- Divide the pasta onto plates and garnish with lemon zest and additional cheese, if desired; for even more lemony flavor, serve with a squeeze of lemon juice.