Adapted from Cacio e Pepe Pasta Pie by Justin Chapel of Food & Wine
I urge you to use freshly ground black pepper that you grind before making this. This torte (or cake) was based on Cacio e pepe, an Italian pasta that gets its distinctive flavor from pecorino cheese and lots of black pepper. If you can’t get pecorino, Parmesan and Asiago are different, but probably the closest substitutes. Also different, but delicious, is Vella dry jack cheese, made in California.
I used cheeses that were available to me, and suggest if you can’t get Comte use Gruyere, Emmenthal or Jarlsberg as a substitute for it. (A mild cheddar may work as well.) For the softer cheese, I used a Tomme de montagne, a “catch-all” term in France for a mountain cheese that’s often semi-soft. Fontina isn’t available in France very easily, but I know it is elsewhere. Feel free to use Gouda, Vacherin Fribourgeois, or Morbier in its place. You can make this gluten-free by substituting a gluten-free spaghetti, perhaps cooking it even less than al dente, since it tends to be a lot softer than standard pasta. (Other pasta shapes would work as well, too.)
If you don’t have a springform pan, you could bake this in a similar sized casserole and serve it sliced directly from the baking dish without unmolding it.
1 pound (455g) dried spaghetti
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
pinch red pepper powder
3/4 cup (70g) finely grated pecorino cheese
3 cups (7 ounces, 200g) grated Comté, or a Swiss-style cheese
3 cups (7 ounces, 200g) grated Fontina, or a similar semisoft cheese
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the spaghetti just until it’s very al dente. Do not cook until completely tender. (The recommended cooking time on my bag was 10 minutes. I cooked mine for 8 minutes.)
2. Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC). Butter a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan. Wrap the bottom very securely in one large sheet of aluminum foil. Set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. (Extra insurance in case your pan leaks a bit.)
3. When the pasta is done, drain it well and let cool slightly.
4. In the pot, whisk together the milk, eggs, salt, black and red peppers. Set 1/2 cup (40g) of each of the Comte and Fontina cheeses aside. (Total: 1 cup/80g.) Stir the rest of the grated cheese, as well as the pecorino, into the milk and egg mixture.
5. Stir the slightly cooled spaghetti into the milk and cheese until it is completely combined.
6. Transfer the mixture to the prepared springform pan. Smooth the top so it’s relatively even and sprinkle the 1 cup (80g) reserved grated cheese over the top.
7. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake feels just set in the center and is slightly bubbling around the edges. Turn on the broiler and brown the top of the torte on the upper-third rack of the oven until well-browned. Remove from oven and run a knife around the inside of the cake pan to loosen the pie from the sides. Let rest about 10 minutes then released and remove the sides of the pan. Serve while still warm, in slices. It can also be served at room temperature if you’re looking for a picnic dish.
Storage: The torte can be made up to three days in advance and refrigerated, then rewarmed in the oven, covered with foil. It can be frozen for up to two months.