We felt like refugees + a cacio e pepe recipe

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mise en place


I want to recount how a pre-planned family visit turned into a surreal travel experience. Most of you have seen the videos and read the accounts of the chaos that the NYC vicinity experienced due to an underestimated deluge of which, to our dismay, we became unwilling victims. Claudia and I left Manchester under cloudy skies, and with naive and uninformed intelligence, proceeded to drive into that almost apocalyptic scene.

Driving rain throughout Connecticut unnerved us but as we crossed the NY state line our phones began to scream out emergency alerts. Traffic was intense yet all were still heading to the city. We put the local AM news station on and what we heard was unsettling. The Mayor was announcing that all New Yorkers should shelter in place. There were news reports of people being pulled out of flooded cars on roads that were ahead on our route all while a driving rain was getting more intense. We proceeded at a snail’s pace into what they were telling us to avoid, too far along to stop and turn around.

Five hours into our drive, an hour past our expected arrival time, we found ourselves part of a scene that I find hard to describe. As far as we could see were cars stopped on a three-lane highway for miles ahead as one heavily used commuter road after another was closed due to flooding.  What appeared to me a continent of autos were then funneled onto two side streets guarded by long-timed traffic lights.

As a reader of fiction, authors have transported me to scenes of teaming masses of refugees fleeing horrors and violence. Stopped dead on the road, rain coming down so hard as to feel submerged, my imagination took me to those frightening pages. As I stared out of my windshield my mind’s eye was creating those scenes like a movie playing out in front of me. I looked into the faces of people in cars just inches from me, and I superimposed on them the images of terrified characters in the stories that had mesmerized me.

The news on the car radio was recounting life-saving actions of firemen pulling people from flooded basements, officials telling people to remain indoors, drivers to avoid highways and not to leave their cars if flooded. Claud and I have never felt as helpless and trapped as we found ourselves a part of, and surrounded by, thousands of others in the same situation. I have never witnessed such a  scene.

There are times when an active imagination is a blessing but it can also prove a curse. As I sat there and watched an uncountable number of stationary cars filled with stressed and frightened people, my mind put me fleeing an invading army while racing toward a slowly closing border. I was for an hour transported and felt for the first time not only how the characters in the novels felt but also the videos of current refugees in Diasporas around the world.

We moved at a painstakingly slow crawl for another two hours but in time broke free and arrived at my brother’s home. We were greeted with love, sympathy and much-needed refreshment. Over dinner and more than a few drinks I calmed down but the mental images would not go away. The next morning the city dried out. Miraculously, there were no fatalities and as New Yorkers invariably do, they cleaned up and went about their business as if it never happened.

We were not fleeing an invasion or a total catastrophic environmental event.

We were in a historic traffic jam which in retrospect was nothing more than a huge annoyance, yet the stress allowed those images to leave a ghostly imprint.

We Americans have not experienced the horrors that are in those novels lined up in my bookcase, but for the first time, I felt, albeit only imaginary and with a new intensity, what the characters may have felt.

We are a fortunate people and should not lose sight of that. I wonder how many others who were trapped in that morass felt anything like where my mind took me.  I hope a few did and maybe they would become more appreciative and generous with our gifts.



My brother Michael and his wife, Susan, an excellent cook in her own right, have just returned from an Italian Vacation with a stop off in Rome where this was a favorite dinner choice. One of our first trips to Venice, this recipe was prepared for Claudia and me in a giant hollowed-out wheel of Parmesan table-side which has created a lifelong memory. Susan, Claudia and I debated the best recipe for this dish with each of us adding to or increasing the amount of the ingredients. Since this is my column, I will use mine, which of course I believe to be the best. There are few ingredients in this recipe but it’s all about the process which of course we each had a different opinion on.

Serves 4

  • 1 pound of a long pasta of your choice * 1/2 pound as a first course or as a side
  • Grated Parmesan  – lots!
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Pasta Water (the magic ingredient)
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 large bowl

Once the pasta is cooked this recipe happens fast. It’s perfect for an impromptu dinner or for when you forgot to go to the grocery, as you more than likely have all you need already.

1. Add 1/2 cup of Parmesan to the bowl*

2. Add the hot pasta and toss with the cheese allowing it to melt. *here is where you would add the butter

CHEF’S TIP: do not drain but use tongs to remove the pasta from the pot and add to the pasta bowl.

3. Add 1/4 cup of warm pasta water and toss with more cheese forming a sauce

4. Add the black pepper and salt. How much pepper? As much as you like and I like a lot!

5. Add the parsley and serve adding more cheese

I would recommend a chilled red wine to compliment the black pepper.

About this Author

Edward Aloise

Edward Aloise Previous Co-Owner/ Chef of Republic Cafe and Campo Enoteca and currently the principal in Republic Restaurant Consulting.