over easy

I Made Weed-Infused Cacio e Pepe and Lost an Entire Weekend

My downfall. Photo: Amanda Arnold

Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.

Today is April 20. 420. The High Holy day of Hemp. Cannabis Christmas. It is a holiday I have rarely observed in the past because, to be honest, I’m a terrible stoner. This one time in college, I got upsettingly high, and became fixated on the fact that humans have all these muscles that keep working even when we don’t pay attention to them. Profoundly shaken, I spent the rest of the night sitting in silence, urgently doing Kegels because I was worried that if I stopped for even a moment, the muscles of my pelvic floor would go slack and I’d pee all over my friend Tim’s blue corduroy couch. (Thankfully, that didn’t happen.) Since then, I’ve gotten a little better, but not much. Now, my pot consumption usually involves taking two hits, coughing a lot, and watching precisely 16 minutes of Planet Earth before I fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.

This year, though, I decided to mark this baked occasion by making a weed-infused meal for some friends. And not just a batch of crappy brownies or whatever. I wanted to use cannabis butter (or cannabutter) to make something elegant and sophisticated that would get us all a little high, but like, classy high. Not being a cannabis cooking connoisseur, I turned to Mindy Segal, a James Beard Award–winning pastry chef, the owner of Mindy’s HotChocolate in Chicago, and author of Cookie Love, who, in 2016, partnered with Cresco Labs, Illinois’s largest cultivator of medical cannabis, to create a line of high-end edibles.

“You wanna make sure that it’s dosed properly, first and foremost,” Mindy told me over the phone. “That’s where people mess up the most.”

Now, a note on process here: Usually, when I interview someone, I record the call on my phone. But on the day I called Mindy, the app I use wasn’t working. So I took copious notes instead. For about 20 minutes, Mindy and I talked about the entire process of making cannabutter, and what would pair well with it. When she asked what dish I planned to make, I told her a friend of mine had suggested cacio e pepe, a pasta dish from Rome whose name literally translates to “cheese and pepper.”

“That’s perfect!” she exclaimed, noting that the flavor of the parmesan and pepper would pair well with the earthiness of the cannabutter.

She pointed me toward a recipe that involved using my slow-cooker. “It helps control the temperature so you get THC [from the cannabis],” she explained. “You don’t wanna go higher than 220 or 250 degrees, because that’s when it starts converting to CBN.” (CBN is a chemical compound in cannabis that tends to make people feel extremely drowsy.) She also mentioned a cannabutter-infused flourless chocolate cake she once made for Passover, telling me, “We all ate a tablespoon each, and were feeling pretty good.”

“But,” she warned me, “it’s a high that’s not like smoking pot. It’s a body high. It’s totally different. Some people hate it.”

After we hung up, I turned to a new page of my notepad, and made bullet points of the most important details — don’t heat the cannabis over 250 degrees; use one eighth and one stick of butter; decarboxylate first (more on that later); and use one tablespoon of cannabutter per person.

I’d only had edibles a couple of times before — half a chocolate-chip cookie, a quarter of a brownie — and I thought both the taste and the experience were fine, if a little underwhelming. Having heard so many horror stories about people eating edibles and getting too high, I was careful not to consume too much, and, as with most of my marijuana-related endeavors, quickly fell asleep. My pasta experience, I figured, would be the same. Oh, how wrong I was …

The day after my phone call with Mindy, I got to work. Though the recipe for cannabutter she’d suggested calls for a cup of butter and about an ounce of weed, she assured me that for my meal, a stick of butter and an eighth would be enough. Making weed butter, I learned, is a lengthy process, a fact I found mildly surprising given the microscopic attention spans of most of the stoners I know.

First, I decarboxylated my buds, which basically just means I threw them in the oven. Baking the buds for 30 minutes, at about 235 degrees, converts THCA, a non-intoxicating compound, into THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. I was worried this step would make my whole building smell like a Phish concert, but it didn’t smell that strongly, and no one barged into my apartment demanding to speak to Trey Anastasio.

The butter. Photo: Madeleine Aggeler

Next, I ground up my decarbed buds, and put them in my CrockPot with a stick of butter, cooking the mixture on low for three hours, stirring every half hour. When it was done, I strained the mixture (which looked like some kind of dark, foreboding tea, but smelled buttery and delicious) through cheesecloth into a glass, and let it set in the fridge for a little over an hour.

Finally, it was time to make the pasta. I was joined on my infusion journey by my friend and co-worker Amanda, and my roommate Kenny. Amanda, like me, is a weed lightweight, but unlike me, has made cacio e pepe before. Kenny, unlike either of us, is not a weed lightweight. We were all bringing different strengths to the table.

We used a recipe for cacio e pepe I had found on Bon Appetit, and after melting three tablespoons of cannabutter in with the parmesan, pecorino, black pepper, pasta water, and bucatini, we divvied it all up into three heaping bowls, and sat down to eat.

The rest of the weekend is a blur. We made our cannabutter pasta on Friday night, and it wasn’t until about Monday afternoon that I started to feel like myself again. At one point on Friday, I remember desperately gripping the kitchen counter for balance and trying not to cry as the seams of the universe burst open around me. On Saturday, I went on a boat trip for my friend’s bachelorette party, where I struggled to converse with people while simultaneously keeping my eyes open, not puking on them, and also not disappearing into another dimension. On the boat, I spotted a guy I went out with once, and instead of saying hi or ignoring him — both socially acceptable options — I stared directly at him, slack-jawed, for either 30 seconds or 600 minutes, I can’t be sure. “We will never feel normal again,” Amanda texted me Sunday night. “Still high,” said Kenny.

I knew I was a lightweight, but this seemed excessive. Clearly, I had messed something up, something besides my synapses. The next week, after I had finally sobered up, I called Mindy back to figure out where I went wrong.

“So, you said no more than one tablespoon of weed butter per person, right?” I asked, slightly frantic.

“What? No.”

My stomach sank. Mindy explained that for one dish, you probably shouldn’t have more than 5 mg of THC. When I asked what that meant in terms of my cannabutter, which was one eighth and one stick of butter, she said probably not more than one teaspoon per person.

Teaspoon. NOT tablespoon. That meant Amanda, Kenny, and I had eaten three times the recommended amount. I texted them both to explain what had happened, and apologize, and they were both extremely gracious for people who had been poisoned. “I think it’s funny. Now that we’re no longer high,” said Amanda. “It was also sort of fun poison, to be fair,” wrote Kenny.

All that being said, though, the cacio e pepe was almost … worth it. The cannabutter had an earthy, mushroomy flavor that, as Mindy had predicted, paired exquisitely with the tanginess of the cheese and the heat of the black pepper. The cannabutter was slightly labor-intensive, but clearly potent, and even eating triple the amount we should have, we had over half of it left over. And the cacio e pepe itself was easy, fast, cheap. With the correct dosing (a TEASPOON per person, NOT a tablespoon — write this down, tattoo it on your forehead if you have to!) this would be a truly delightful, delicious, elegant way to get high.

My report card
Preparation: F-
Taste: A++++
Number of times I truly thought I would die: 5

My Overall Performance: C

I Made Weed-Infused Cacio e Pepe and Lost an Entire Weekend