Spinaci al Formaggio e Pepe

This morning I wept upon viewing an image and caption posted by someone I follow on Instagram … rows as far as the eye can see of Army vehicles carrying coffins of the dead. They were being carried from Bergamo because the city’s crematorium cannot handle the quantity. Other cities with capacity will cremate them. 

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I Wept, Then I Wept Some More

Today is not the first time tears have found a home on my cheeks as I’ve learned of the tragedy and beauty of these times. In Italy a neighborhood began singing and making music together while sheltering in their homes—what a beautiful way to commune. I’ve choked up over the giving nature of humans around the world several times. The first story came from Wuhan.

NPR shared a story about car owners who chose to drive medical workers who had neither cars nor public transportation. It was a risky business, especially at first, but supplies and an effective protocol developed. A volunteer told of how a thorough, time-consuming sanitizing process was followed after each passenger. He added that he took many showers, as often in between trips as possible. When asked why he would take such personal risk to drive these medical workers, he spoke of his desire to do his part for his community … and then he shared that it was an act of love: he did it because he loves Wuhan and its people. 

Here in the U.S., I’ve been incredibly moved by people who have set up delivery services for elderly and others at risk so they can avoid public spaces. I’ve been lifted to see companies offering free services for those who need it and encouraged by businesses quickly modifying business models to accommodate the current situation. I’ve become joyful at each point I see a large company take a stance that supports people over profit. And I’ve felt hearty appreciation for the people who have given us facts as well as those who have provided memes and other humorous distractions, for these both serve to ground us in unique ways.

Keeping Hope in Uncertain Times

As the U.S. thus far has followed the trajectory of COVID-19 seen in Italy, I’m not sure what the coming weeks will bring. This is not a time for panic, but for common sense and cooperation. I encourage my network of family, friends and followers to protect themselves and others. I’m doing my part to socially distance and limit contact. I’ve shared resources I trust and offered services to those who need it. I’m writing. And I’m cooking … one way I can ground myself and comfort others. Cooking is a very small way to shine a light on the familiar and drive out the shadows of tragedies known and yet to come. 

About Spinaci al Formaggio e Pepe

Spinaci al Formaggio e Pepe is a light side inspired by a classic Italian dish: Cacio e Pepe. I discovered Cacio e Pepe while researching ideas for a Valentine’s Day meal. Because I’m trying to watch fats, I substituted the traditional pecorino cheese with cotija. Cotija is the Mexican version of Parmesan cheese and is extremely low fat, for a cheese. Spinach was a fortunate afterthought, because now this has become a go-to dish. My husband and I have thoroughly enjoyed the aromatic and filling spinach dish on its own, under meats and over pasta. 

If you want a gluten-free version, you could mix the Cacio e Pepe mix into the spinach and forego the pasta. Or you could substitute the pasta with spaghetti squash or zucchini “noodles.”  Reduce or eliminate salt for a lower sodium version.

I often serve Spinaci al Formaggio e Pepe with other traditional Italian dishes. Tonight, I served it with one of my husband’s Cuban inspired comfort foods: Mojo marinated pork loin. Whatever your meal tonight, I hope you find joy in your food. Mangia! Mangia!

“But when Italians say ‘Mangia! Mangia!’ they’re not just talking about food. They’re trying to get you to stay with them, to sit by them at the table for as long as possible. The meals that my family ate together—the many courses, the time in between at the table or on the mountain by the sea, the hours spent talking loudly and passionately and unyieldingly and laughing hysterically the way Neapolitans do—were designed to prolong our time together; the food was, of course, meant to nourish us, but it was also meant to satisfy, in some deeper way, our endless hunger for one another.”

Sergio Esposito

Spinaci al Formaggio e Pepe

Cacio e pepe, meet garlicky spinach. A quick, easy and tasty way to eat your vegetables.
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Keyword gluten-free option, low sodium option, spinach, vegetarian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 5 cups
Calories 228kcal


  • ½ lb pasta noodles or equivalent vegetable substitute
  • ¼ C powdered cotija cheese or use Pecorino or Parmesan
  • ½ tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1 TBSP cold water
  • Spinaci spinach
  • 8 cups spinach leaves de-stemmed
  • 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp cayenne


  • Cook pasta according to directions on package.

Casio e Pepe:

  • Mix together cheese, pepper and cold water to make a paste.


  • Rinse and de-stem spinach leaves.
  • Peel garlic cloves: thinly slice two and mince one.
  • Place oil into pan and heat to medium.
  • Add garlic and seasoning. Stir well.
  • Add spinach and saute until leaves wilt.
  • Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Prepare Finished Dish

  • Mix Cacio e Pepe mix into pasta or vegetable noodles. When properly done it should blend in smoothly and not clump. Top with spinach mixture.


Serving Suggestions
Serve as a side with chicken, sausage, pork, meatballs, flounder or vegetable dishes.


Serving: 1cup | Sodium: 241mg | Calcium: 99mg | Vitamin C: 14mg | Vitamin A: 4617IU | Sugar: 2g | Fiber: 3g | Potassium: 388mg | Cholesterol: 7mg | Calories: 228kcal | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Fat: 5g | Protein: 9g | Carbohydrates: 37g | Iron: 2mg