Two years ago, I reached my cacio e pepe saturation point. The combination of Pecorino Romano (or, in some recipes, Parmigiano Reggiano) and pepper was everywhere, and on everything. It still is. And though I still think we should collectively expand our pasta repertoire, even I must admit that cheese and pepper are two great tastes that taste great together.
It also makes even the simplest snacks look and feel intentional (which is why food writers love to put it on everything — it’s a tasty crutch). Imagine two bowls of potato chips: One is just that, a bowl of chips, with nothing else on or around them. The second is covered with a small mountain of fluffy Parmigiano or Pecorino, with flecks of freshly ground pepper breaking up the cloud of white. Which one looks more inviting, more delicious? Which one looks like it was prepared with guests in mind?
Cacio e pepe chips are a perfect last-minute addition to any party spread, especially a party that centres around watching TV, such as a Super Bowl party (or an Oscar-watching party). Pecorino may not be a traditional football watching cheese (that would be Velveeta), but cheese + chip is a classic game day formula — or “play,” if you will — that’s sure to please your whole team. Pungent, floral pepper accentuates the glutamates in the cheese and balances the salt in the chips — it really is a perfect little bite.
Making cacio e pepe chips is what I like to call “easier than falling off a log.” Put your chips in a wide, shallow bowl (or on a rimmed plate), then grate a whole bunch of Pec or Parm directly onto the crispy potato slices. Use a microplane for the fluffiest texture, and don’t be afraid to really go there. (The higher your pile of cheese, the closer to God!) Finish with a whole bunch of freshly ground pepper. (It’s in the name, after all.)