cacio e pepe timballo

We love baked pasta but somehow our progress in exploring this relatively broad area of cuisine has remained painfully limited. Sure we have mastered the queen of baked pasta, lasagna, but there are so many other interesting ways to create a comfort food oven-baked pasta dish. A few years ago we stumbled on a whole cookbook devoted mostly to baked pastas, in a Rome bookstore in an underground passage at the street intersection below Via del Corson near Piazza Colonna, and snatched it up. In Italian. But somehow its inner pages are not calling our name, bake me, bake me.

One of our nephews attends a K-8 Armenian Catholic school, so in addition to tuition, they have to do fundraising every year. This year part of it was magazine subscriptions. I said just give him the money outright, we don't need another magazine. After all we managed to cut ourselves free from Bon Appetit after 25 years. She picked Food and Wine. Okay, we impulse buy that once in a while.

And a few months into the subscription (May 2015) a recipe catches our eye immediately: "Cacio e Pepe Pasta Pie" they called it, but in Italian they would call this a "timballo" (from the French word "timbale" for kettledrum, also timpano in Italian) which is a type of baked pasta baked in a mold or pan so that it stands alone once removed after baking. Cacio e pepe is a simple tasty traditional Roman pasta that is served in too many restaurants in Rome, but usually done well anyway. The cheese and pasta is contrasted with the peppery taste of, well, pepper. Cacio refers to the cheese in Roman dialect (only pecorino romano in the traditional recipe), but in some indirect way that bob never understood very well. For this baked pasta the cheese sector is beefed up a bit for the cheesy factor, a key winning feature for comfort foods, like our own American mac and cheese. And don't skimp on the black pepper—that is what makes this dish.


1 pound spaghetti
1 1/2 cups milk (or 3/4 c nonfat milk, 3/4 c heavy cream)
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (use pecorino romano instead for authenticity!)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Kosher salt
6 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded (2 cups)
6 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
Butter, for greasing, or cooking spray


  1. Trace out and cut a round circle of parchment paper to cover the bottom of a 9 or 9.5 in springform pan. It should be a tightfitting pan, but even so some liquid may ooze out the bottom. Inverting the bottom (rim down) makes it easy to slide off the torta when finished. We attempted an aluminum foil layer under the bottom and up the outer sides of the pan to minimize loss. Butter the side and bottom of the pan or just spray with vegetable oil, we've done both and don't notice the difference.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425°. In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain well, but keep some of the pasta water in case needed.
  3. Meanwhile in a large bowl, mix the pasta, milk, Parmigiano, eggs, pepper, salt and 1 1/2 cups each of the Fontina and cheddar. [If you think a little hit of pasta water can help here, try it.] Scrape into a buttered 9-inch springform pan, then sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup each of Fontina and cheddar on top. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling.
  4. Turn on the broiler. Broil the pie 8 inches from the heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until browned on top. Transfer to a rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Remove the ring, slide off the pie (if you did the parchment paper) and cut into wedges and serve.


  1. Food and Wine, May 2015, Justin Chapple: Cacio e Pepe Pasta Pie [more baked pastas!]
  2. Bon Appetit Cacio e Pepe, for comparison, but see Wiki cacio e pepe for the cheese confirmation.
  3. The dish "timballo" entered American culture with the film "Big Night", where the featured dish in an Italian restaurant re-opening was a called by another Italian term "timpano". A year ago while using an underground street passage bookstore at Piazza Colonna - Galleria Alberto Sordi in Rome, this cookbook jumped out at us: Timballi Lasagne e Pasticci, but it took us a while to actually use it.
  4. In Italian the normal word order of nouns and adjectives is reversed, so "timballo cacio e pepe" would be the Italian name, as Massimo reminded bob, but this is an English language recipe.
  5. After making this 3 times in our tightest springform pan, a nice heavy gauge product by Calphalon, fighting the excessive milk leakage each time, bob found the solution: the Martha Stewart 9 inch springform pan, only at Macy's with inverted pan bottom so the lip faces down, locking into an outer rim slot that severely restricts fluid loss. You could make this in a normal pan, but then you would have to scoop it out to serve and you would lose the elegant presentation as a standalone cake.
  6. An added precaution to lessen leakage is to make a bechamel sauce with the milk by starting with a little flour and butter and once hot, melting in the majority of the cheeses, leaving some of each for the topping.
  7. The NYTimes has recently featured an "easier to make" timpano. [The Big Night recipe is much older; see also this.]
  8. Illustrations available.
cacioepepetorta.htm: 17-dec-2015 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]