Spaghetti with Cheese and Pepper (Cacio e Pepe)
Yield: 2 | Total time: 8 min
What to make for dinner? Neil usually has his requests in for the following day's meals before we have even finished our dinner from the night before; I like that he's an enthusiastic eater. Because he spent three years in Italy as a child and still vividly recalls polenta and funghi festivals and field trips to Venice, Italian is his go-to comfort food. Lately, he has been on a Pecorino Romano kick, eating chunks between meals and work outs, mostly because I've been finishing up final edits (once again) on Book 2 and have been less attentive in the kitchen, serving recipes I'm retesting over and over again for my first cookbook. Don't feel too badly for him, though. Just this week, he's had to taste test Summer Berry Tarts, Lemon Verbena-Crème Fraîche Ice Cream, and Tempura-Fried Stuffed Squash Blossoms...
So, tonight I'm going to put the rest of the cheese-y, sheep-y chunks of Pecorino to work and make cacio e pepe, a traditional Roman dish that literally translates to 'cheese and pepper.' In the words of the great Ina Garten: How easy is that? Speaking of the Barefoot Contessa, I've run into her twice at the market near her home in Paris and both times she suggested I dine at an Italian restaurant near Odéon, where I tasted some simple and delicious pasta dishes, which is perhaps why I'm reminded of her as I write this because Ina is all about simple yet deeply satisfying flavors. Back to the recipe: I've made cacio e pepe before many times, and admit that I have altered it somewhat using butter. I know this is a no-no to purists, but a bit of really good butter in this dish is nothing to start a riot over.
To honor the traditional recipe, I'll tell you that you only need the original three ingredients here: pasta, cheese, and pepper. (If you feel the hankering for butter, go ahead and melt it down with the freshly ground black pepper.) Because this calls for such few ingredients, make sure they are all of the highest quality. And use freshly ground pepper; since this calls for quite a bit, it's best to crush or grind using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Also, make sure to keep about 1 cup of hot cooking water from the pasta to make the sauce creamy and thick. Also, I suggest using a Microplane to finely grate the cheese; the result is fluffy and airy.
- 6 to 8 ounces pasta, such as spaghetti, chitarra, or angel hair
- 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
- Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until almost al dente, about 2 minutes less than the regular cooking time. Scoop out about 1 cup of boiling water before draining pasta; set pasta and hot pasta water aside.
- Heat butter and pepper over medium high heat, swirling pan, until butter is melted, frothy, and pepper is fragrant. Add about 1/4 cup of the hot pasta water; add cooked pasta and toss to combine. Decrease heat to low and add Parmesan cheese, tossing to combine. Add 1/4 cup of the Pecorino Romano and toss to combine. Add more pasta water if the pasta seems dry, until the sauce coats the pasta and is creamy. Serve in warm bowls topped with remaining grated Pecorino Romano. Eat at once.
Date Published: July 20, 2013
All recipes have been tested by the KimSunée.com Test Kitchens unless otherwise noted.