by Diane Rossen Worthington
When a chef friend suggested we make a simple dinner of Cacio e Pepe, I was there. This ancient Roman dish includes dry pasta, Pecorinio Romano cheese, cracked black peppercorns and some of the pasta water. While it sounds simple to make, especially with the minimal ingredient list, it requires a bit of skill incorporating the ingredients. Since that first dinner I have reworked this dish numerous times.
Some would say it's heresy to add olive oil or butter, but I found it just made it taste that much better. So call me a heretic! I will tell you that this dish depends upon your choice of ingredients for its success. Use a good quality Italian pasta. I prefer spaghetti, but you could also use linguine, tagliolini or bucatini. The cheese must be an Italian Pecorino Romano. I like to shred it coarsely on a grater just before adding to the pasta. This sheep's milk cheese has a very evocative flavor; some people like to add a bit of freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano along with the Pecorino cheese to tame the flavor. I've added it in the recipe. That's up to you and your particular taste.
Black pepper may sound like a basic ingredient, but I urge you to use fresh black peppercorns. If you don't have a peppermill that can go from fine to very coarse you can now buy inexpensive ones at the market with the peppercorns inside the grinder. According to my research, the coarser the grind, the better. That's because a coarse grind replicates crushing the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle, from the classic Roman recipe.
Once the pasta is cooked, it gets a quick finish in a large skillet that includes toasted peppercorns, grated cheese and some of the pasta cooking water. When tossed all together, the pasta is cloaked with a thin cheese sauce and a sprinkling of pepper. If you don't tell anyone, I have one more change to the classic recipe -- finely chopped Italian parsley. I have to have a bit of color on a black and white dish! I hope you will try this. Serve it as a first course, main course or side dish. To drink? Go Italian with a Sangiovese.
Spaghetti with Cheese and Pepper (Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe)
Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a first course or side dish.
1 pound dried Italian spaghetti, linguine, taglionlini or bucatni
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan Reggiano
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley, optional
1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the pepper and sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Pour 3/4 cup pasta water into the skillet, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Using tongs, transfer pasta to skillet, spreading it evenly in the pan.
3. Sprinkle all of the Pecorino over the pasta and toss well, creating a sauce, until the sauce clings to the pasta, about 2 minutes, adding more pasta water as needed. Arrange on serving plates and sprinkle over the Parmesan Reggiano and parsley. Serve immediately.
Spaghetti with Cheese and Pepper (Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe) Recipe, Italian Cuisine