There’s lots to love when it comes to pasta cacio e uova (“CAH-chee-oh eh WOE-va”). The cheese and egg pasta, called cas ’e ov in its native Naples, doesn’t dirty many dishes, calls for just a handful of ingredients, and makes its way to the table in a flash. The method is simple: Cooked and drained pasta is returned to the pot and tossed with a garlic-infused fat, such as lard, olive oil, or butter. The magic happens when a mixture of Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, and beaten eggs is poured into the pot—as the egg, cheese, and still-hot pasta are stirred together, the cheese melts, the egg cooks, and a smooth and glossy sauce forms to complete the dish.
With such a straightforward cooking method, the keys to success lay in ingredient selection and proportions. Choosing a pasta was simple—I’d stick with the traditional choice of tubetti, a tubular shape that’s about twice as long as ditalini—but I had a few options when it came to choosing a fat. Lard seemed to be the most traditional choice, but in the past I had found that most lards tasted plain, so I ruled it out, doubting it would bring much flavor to the dish. A test using butter demonstrated that it got lost amid the cheese and egg, so I settled on toasting a couple garlic cloves in olive oil, which lent the dish a subtle complexity.
With that, I thought I was ready to move on to the rest of my ingredient selection—but then a chat about the dish with Italian food historian Francine Segan stopped me in my tracks. “Lard!” Segan enthused. “Somehow in English the word just doesn’t sound as delicious as it does in Italian. ‘Strutto’—so musical, it melts in your mouth.” With a description like that, how could I not try swapping in lard at least once? And from the first bite of that batch, my mind was made up. The cacio e uova made with lard not only tasted fuller and richer, the cheese flavor heightened, but also felt lighter and cleaner on the palate.