The last time chef Missy Robbins of perennial-favorite pasta spot Lilia stopped by the MUNCHIES Test Kitchen to cook with us, she threw together a super summery pasta dish with clams and early summer herbs picked fresh from our rooftop garden. It was so seasonal it’d be almost impossible to recreate it on your own, at any time that was not July of 2016 on our roof in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
But, as Robbins says on her most recent visit to the Test Kitchen, “There’s stuff that’s delicious and forever that has nothing to do with the seasons.” The cacio e pepe kugel she’s making is one of those perennially good things, and it’s featured in her recently-released cookbook, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner… Life!: Recipes and Adventures from My Home Kitchen.
“This dish came about from me having time off and having time to experiment in my home kitchen making kugel with a bunch of friends,” she says. That’s true of most of the recipes in the book, which was written after taking a year-long sabbatical from her high-profile position as executive chef of both locations of Manhattan’s heralded Italian spot A Voce. It’s also the perfect, most comforting combination of her Jewish upbringing and her affinity for Italian cuisine.
She briefly boils a pound and a half of packaged spaghetti in salted water, taking it out of the pot with tongs while the pasta is still quite al dente. (The kugel stays moister if the noodles aren’t strained in a colander.) They’ll finish cooking through when the kugel is baked in the oven.
She combines an impressive amount of whipped ricotta, mascarpone, and Pecorino Romano cheeses with the drained pasta, and cracks a generous amount of black pepper into the mixture.
“It’s the easiest recipe, by the way, and the most-made one from the book, I think,” she says. Friends text her pictures of their attempts at home all the time.
Once a baking dish is buttered thoroughly, she not-so-gracefully dumps the pasta and cheese mixture in, and spreads it evenly to the corners.
“Voila! It’s idiot proof,” she proclaims. After a final few cracks of pepper on top, the dish goes into the oven for about 35 minutes and we wait for it to turn a crunchy golden brown on top.
MAKE THIS: Cacio e Pepe Kugel
When the creamy, peppery kugel is set, she serves up a square slice, and a few tendrils of spaghetti dangle from the edges.
It’s a no-brainer that baked, cheesy pasta inspired by a Jewish holiday classic would make the ur-comfort food, a truly Platonic ideal of coziness. And the best part is that it exists in a place outside of time, a comfort for all seasons. But we’re probably going to be making it all year long.