When the beguiling and brilliant Italian chef Massimo Bottura stopped by the SAVEUR offices last week to discuss his new book Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef (Phaidon, 2014), the owner of Modena’s famed Osteria Francescana restaurant regaled us with tales of feeding Lou Reed, rendering the loquacious talk show host Charlie Rose silent, and the lessons he learned growing up in northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. But Bottura really got our attention when he started describing one of the recipes from his book—a unique take on the Roman pasta dish cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) called risotto cacio e pepe.
It’s a dish he devised after the earthquakes that devastated the Emilia-Romagna region in May 2012. "I made it as a social gesture," he told us, "something that featured the flavors of the region affected by the earthquake, including rice, as well as some of the nearly 1,000 wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano that were damaged—we wanted to create a dish that would utilize them." To do so, Bottura simmered shredded Parmigiano in water, creating what he referred to as a dashi. "After we turned the heat off, we stirred it until it was creamy, and left it in the fridge overnight. When we woke up the next day, the liquid had separated into three parts: there were protein solids on the bottom, a thick broth in the middle, and a Parmigiano cream on top. We toasted some rice, sourced from the many small villages in the area effected by the earthquake. Then we started adding the broth until the rice basically became pure Parmigiano, and finished it with the cream of parmesan." The result is a simple but sumptuous dish, which, as Bottura put it, "borrowed an iconic Roman spaghetti dish…and transformed it into an Emilian symbol of hope and recovery by using Parmigiano instead of pecorino, and rice instead of pasta—it was the beginning of our revolution with risotto."