My friend Pietro had made a big bowl of pasta aglio e olio for us sometime ago, and we inhaled every bite. Of course we then reeked of garlic, but the pasta was so good that we didn’t care. He used parsley – curly leaf parsley – in his aglio e olio version, which he crushed together with the garlic. He did that by putting some salt on top of the parsley and the garlic, and then smushed them down, using the salt to pretty much grind down the garlic and salt.
Well, the other day our fridge was pretty empty. Not much was left except for some snow peas. No parsley either. So I first thought of making Pasta cacio e pepe (pasta with pecorino and black pepper). I only had some grana padano, but I thought that would be a decent substitute. Then I remembered I had some cilantro. I hadn’t used cilantro in my pasta before (shocking, I know), but I figured I’d give it a try. And I’d use the idea of using the cheese as in the cacio e pepe recipe to let the cheese and pasta water to come together and give the dish some creaminess. Without using cream or any other heavy thing to create creaminess.
Can I just tell you that cilantro is an awesome substitute? It’s stronger than the parsley, but the flavor works just as well in this dish. I wonder if it’s a good substitute in other dishes as well? And letting the pasta water and cheese come together is just genius. The dish was light and tasteful, without any of the heaviness that would have come from the use of cream. Heaven.