Sorry about the late start on this week’s edition of Food is Stupid. Davida and I are heading out to Portland, Oregon, next week (so no newsletter then), and we’ve been trying to get all of our ducks in a row. I forget how stressful the runup to a vacation can be. But I promise, I’m making it up to you right this very second.
This edition involves some (all) of my favorite subjects: Making fun of pasta dishes, pet food, and dicks. That previous sentence is why I’m widely regarded as the best food writer in all of history, and also why no other food writers ever seem to make eye contact when talking to me.
So today, I’m tackling an Italian pasta dish that has been covered so extensively that every time I read about it, my eyes begin to bleed and I start to black out.
I’m talking about cacio e pepe.
The words “cacio e pepe” simply mean “cheese and pepper” in a few Italian dialects, because that’s all that really goes in it. But what’s weird is that when you do a Google search for “cacio e pepe,” you will find yourself wading through about 2,384,293,479,582,735,872,340 results claiming to contain the best version of the recipe, even though it’s really just cheese, black pepper, and pasta.
Try mentioning cacio e pepe to a professional chef and see what happens. They are obligated to nod gravely and tell you loudly that it is the most important dish they’ve ever learned how to cook. If you follow up by asking them about French-style omelets, they will look around nervously and say the exact same thing while trying not to cry.
What’s even more entertaining is if you get drunk, hop on social media, and claim your recipe for cacio e pepe is better than everyone else’s (even if you’ve never made it in your entire life), an argument will break out, someone will inevitably accuse someone else of actually being Hitler, and a million thinkpieces will be written about what happened that day. What a delicious dish!
You can now understand why at this point, the words “cacio e pepe” make me twitch.
“Cacio e pepe? More like cacio e PEEPEE,” I said to myself, after reading through my millionth recipe. “Zang, got ‘em!”
Wait a second. I love cooking with peepees (I’ve even cooked with poopoos!). I could do this. I could try making cacio e peepee. But what type of peepee would I need to get in order to make this happen?
I went to Petco and wandered the aisles, looking for a very particular product: bully sticks.
If you’re a dog owner, you already know exactly what bully sticks are. But if you’ve never owned a dog, you’re in for a real (dog) treat, because they’re a cute name for dried bull penises. As you can imagine with most dried body parts meant for doggie consumption, bully sticks are dog chews. Also, I’ve never had a dog. I should not be this well acquainted with bully sticks.
What’s more intriguing is that I found a premium version of bully sticks at our local Petco.
These were labeled “odor free,” which addresses a complaint a lot of dog owners have regarding dried bull penises, and it’s that they’re somewhat stinky. As a bonus, the ones I picked up were a foot long, and labeled as “long lasting,” which, I admit, had me feeling a little jealous.
When I got home I immediately sniffed one of the bull dicks, which is something I’ve never typed before.
Sure enough, it was relatively odor-free, with a slight jerky smell to it. The fresh ones I’ve historically dealt with had a vaguely pee-like smell, despite rinsing the living hell out of them. Also, these looked like giant cinnamon sticks.
I thought I’d start with a peepee-based stock to boil the spaghetti noodles in for my family’s someday heirloom recipe for cacio e peepee.
As you can see, they didn’t quite fit into the Dutch oven, but I had faith that everything would be okay.
Sure enough, the things started curling and shrinking up enough to the point where they’d eventually fit into the boiling water.
One even turned into the shape of a question mark, as if to ask me if I was feeling all right.
After a few hours I decided it was time to toss some spaghetti into the pot with the now-shrunken dongs.
Basically what I wanted to do was infuse every single strand of pasta with peepee water. You have to maximize flavor where you can get it, you know? This is where decades of studying the culinary arts has gotten me to, and you know what? I’m cool with that.
As I was already using the finest bull penises available to me, I figured I would also use the best dried cheese known to man, Kraft Green Can Grated Parmesan.
You know exactly which shit I’m talking about. Never mind the fact that cacio e pepe normally contains Pecorino Romano, which is a fact I have to throw in just to make myself look like I know what I’m doing. I’m already destined for a hellride if I ever visit Italy, so maybe I shouldn’t even bother pretending. Plus, when it comes down to it, you all know deep inside your heart that this is the best kind of cheese there is. I’m sure every single Italian would agree.
Once the noodles were reasonably cooked, I tossed them in a pan with one of the dicks (for added flavor, obviously), along with some pasta water and about half the can of the finest cheese in the world.
If you use, uh, normal cheese, it’s all supposed to eventually turn into a creamy emulsified sauce, made possible by the gradual addition of pasta water. This didn’t exactly do that, though much of the cheese did melt into weird gobs, and I’m assuming the cellulose added to the can of cheese to prevent the grains from sticking together wasn’t helping.
I plated some anyway, and to finish it off, I pulled a genius move by grating the last remaining dick on top.
But I am going to tell you something: Grating a dried bull dick is very difficult. For some reason I thought that the Microplane would have made easy work of this pecker, but I barely got anything out of it before I realized I was probably destroying the grater. Never underestimate the sinews of a bull’s dick.
If you look at the photo closely, that snowy substance is what I was able to get out of the bull penis.
At this point, most people would probably hesitate, but I grabbed a fork from the silverware drawer and immediately went to town. I didn’t even bother asking Davida if she wanted any.
Maybe it was because I didn’t boil the dicks for 24 hours like nonna used to, but there really wasn’t much flavor to the pasta aside from a little salt from the cheese. But wait. There at the trailing end was this slightly funky aftertaste that you can only get from gamy dried meat. Ah yes, just the faintest taste of penis.
And the package wasn’t kidding—the penis pasta was still fairly odor free. Good thing, because I paid fucking $34 for those bully sticks. You can’t say I’m not committed, clowns. And guess what? Now I can say that I have created the greatest version of cacio e peepee known to humankind. Because it has to be the only version of cacio e peepee to ever exist.
Time to bust out the thinkpieces, everyone.
Thank you all for stomaching it all the way down to the footer today. You deserve a Michelin star too.
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I don't know how I feel about myself that I went into this praying "please tell me he didn't cook with urine", and then felt relieved when I realized peepee meant penis, not pee.
Costco has the best deals on bully sticks imo. $41 (horrifying) for like 12 and they're all at least 12" long. Inflation has hit bully sticks hard this year.