Why It Works
- Throwing an additional yolk in with the whole eggs increases the overall creaminess without exaggerating the egginess.
- The hot pasta cooking water and the residual heat from the toasted pasta indirectly and gently cook the eggs without scrambling them.
- Just a little garlic gives flavor depth to this quick and simple dish.
Pasta cacio e uova, or cas' e ova in Neapolitan dialect, is a simple Campanian dish that can be most easily summarized as "meatless carbonara."* Like carbonara, cas' e ova features a silky, temperature-sensitive sauce made with eggs and a mixture of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano that coats al dente dried pasta. There's no crispy guanciale in this dish, although the pasta is traditionally tossed with a little garlic-infused pork fat; strutto (lard) is a staple in Neapolitan cooking, but you can easily keep this dish vegetarian by using butter or olive oil. The resulting dish is lighter and brighter than carbonara, while still being rich and satisfying.
Word of advice: As is the case with most regional Italian cuisine conversations, proceed with caution when comparing the culinary traditions of Naples and Rome. Noting similarities won't get you in hot water, but be prepared for a spirited debate. Also, this dish is not to be confused with pallotte cacio e ove, meatless Abbruzzese cheese-and-egg "meatballs" simmered in tomato sauce.
To achieve a smooth, creamy egg-and-cheese sauce, we follow the same basic procedure as our carbonara recipe. Start by whisking together a combination of whole eggs and yolks (flipping the script by using more whole eggs than yolks gives the sauce a slightly looser and glossier texture) with the two grated cheeses in a large heatproof bowl. Then, in a skillet, lightly brown a couple cloves of garlic in butter (or your fat of choice). Remove the cloves and add al dente pasta to the pan, tossing and stirring to coat it well in the garlic-infused butter before transferring it to the bowl with the egg and cheese mixture, along with a large ladleful of starchy cooking water. Using the undrained pasta-cooking pot allows us to harness the heat and create a makeshift double broiler to gently cook the eggs without scrambling them.
With constant stirring and tossing, the eggs tighten up just enough to form a silky sauce. I like to finish the dish with a handful of chopped parsley for a little freshness to cut through the richness of the eggs and cheese. Next time you're out of guanciale or pancetta, but in the mood for carbonara, don't despair! Make cas' e ova instead.
- 2 large eggs (110g), plus 1 large egg yolk (15g)
- 2 ounces (60g) finely grated Pecorino Romano
- 2 ounces (60g) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, extra-virgin olive oil, or lard (see note)
- 2 medium garlic cloves (10g), lightly crushed
- Kosher salt
- 12 ounces (340g) dried small tubular pasta such as tubetti, mezze maniche, maccheroncini, or mezzi rigatoni (see note)
- 1 loosely packed cup (1/2 ounce; 15g) fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, finely chopped (optional)
In a large heatproof mixing bowl, whisk together whole eggs and yolk, Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and black pepper. Set aside.
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring and turning cloves occasionally, until garlic begins to soften and turn pale golden, about 3 minutes. Turn off heat.
Meanwhile, in a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until al dente. Right before pasta finishes cooking, remove garlic cloves from skillet and discard. Using a spider skimmer, transfer pasta to skillet; be sure not to drain boiling pasta cooking water, and reduce heat to a simmer.
Stir and toss pasta rapidly in skillet to evenly coat with butter, then transfer to bowl with egg-cheese mixture, using a rubber spatula to scrape all of the butter into the bowl. Add 3/4 cup (180ml) of reserved pasta cooking water to bowl, and stir to thoroughly combine.
Set bowl over pot of simmering pasta cooking water (making sure bottom of bowl does not touch water) and cook, stirring and scraping down sides of bowl constantly with a rubber spatula, until sauce thickens to a creamy, silky consistency and leaves trails as you stir, about 1 minute, adding more pasta cooking water in 1 tablespoon (15ml) increments as needed to adjust consistency of the sauce.
Remove bowl from heat, add parsley (if using), and stir to combine. Season with salt to taste. Divide between warmed serving bowls, and serve.
Large heatproof bowl, large skillet, spider skimmer
Strutto (lard) is the traditional fat used in many Neapolitan recipes such as cas' e ova and la Genovese, but butter or olive oil work fine for this recipe as well, and keep the dish vegetarian. Lard lends the sauce meaty richness, while butter plays off the dairy flavor of the grated cheeses, and olive oil will give the sauce more grassy and peppery notes. Rendered lard is sold at some butcher shops as well as at Latin American markets. You can also render lard yourself from fatback or leaf lard (fat from the area around the kidneys), following the same technique used for rendering duck fat.
Tubetti are the traditional shape for cas' e ova, but other super-short tubular dried pasta shapes such as mezzi rigatoni and mezze maniche will work as well.
Make-Ahead and Storage
This dish is best enjoyed immediately.