The Comfort Recipe: Chris Leach’s Cacio e Pepe
Ahead of this Saturday's Soho Farmhouse Food Festival in partnership with Porsche, we asked the top chefs appearing to share their lives in food
Wednesday 14 September 2022 By Teo van den Broeke Illustration by Adam Menzies
This Saturday, Soho Farmhouse will host its annual Food Festival in partnership with Porsche. To celebrate this special gastronomic occasion, we’ve asked a few of the most prominent chefs appearing at the event to share a little of their lives in food, including their ultimate comfort recipe. Today, it’s the turn of Chris Leach, chef and cofounder of Manteca.
What’s your favourite comfort dish to cook when you’re at home?
‘I usually serve a take on Cacio e Pepe with brown crab and Grana Padano, rather than the traditional Pecorino Romano. But it still doesn’t stop me making a classic version of this dish after work or sometimes as a post-service snack for the team. My version is not very Roman, as I use butter and I like to add a little lemon juice to balance the richness. Whatever you do, don’t be shy with the black pepper.
Cacio e Pepe
10g freshly ground black pepper – or use a mix of peppercorns (black, pink, even Szechwan)
30g grated Pecorino Romano, plus more to finish
100g tonnarelli or spaghetti
1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add salt until the water tastes highly seasoned – but not like the sea. Cook according to the packet’s instructions or a couple of minutes for fresh pasta.
2. Start the sauce a few minutes before the pasta is ready. Toast the black pepper in a dry pan until fragrant, but don’t let it burn (about a minute). Add the butter and a big ladle of pasta water, then let it boil together until emulsified.
3. Add the pasta to the boiling emulsification with the cheese. Toss rapidly until well combined and all the pasta is coated, then add a little squeeze of lemon juice. Plate the pasta, and grate more Pecorino over the top and a last grind of fresh pepper.
When did you first fall in love with cooking?
‘My gran used to make soda bread every morning when we visited her in Ireland. She never weighed the ingredients, just threw everything together and it came out perfect every time. I think this is when I first started to love food. I came to cooking later, when I was a teenager and the Jamie Oliver Naked Chef series launched. I’d watch it religiously and began cooking much more.’
What was the first dish you ever cooked for someone other than yourself?
‘I remember making a semifreddo recipe from a Jamie Oliver book for my family.’
If you had to pick a death-row meal, what would it be and why?
‘Bone marrow and parsley salad at St John Restaurant in London.’
What are your three favourite ingredients to cook with and why?
‘1. A good olive oil is one of my most used ingredients – great for cooking and dressings, and it will always add flavour to your food.
2. Parmesan, because I’m probably going to be making pasta.
3. Anchovies, as they have such a unique depth of flavour.’
What’s the one dish you still struggle to get right at times?
‘My grandma’s soda bread.’
What’s your ultimate comfort food, beyond the recipe outlined above?
‘Pizza topped with pepperoni and pineapple.’
What has been your most challenging kitchen experience to date?
‘The period between closing our Soho pop-up and getting ready to open our permanent site in Shoreditch. There were a few months when both sites were closed, so we had to move everything into storage, look after our team, all the while navigating the uncertainty of the pandemic and ongoing lockdowns.’