Cacio e Pepe
The first time I encountered this dish was at a cooking demonstration by my friend Gaby of Gaby’s Italian Kitchen and I was blown away by the simple elegance and flavour of what seemed like a simple dish of pasta, water and cheese. Where did all the sauce come from? Shortly afterwards we left for Italy where we spend four months travelling around and there I tried the dish at many restaurants and became a bit of a cacio e pepe connoisseur (kidding).
What is it? a simple pasta dish that creates it own sauce from the cheese and pasta water.
I tried to make it at home at first without much success, the cheese clumping up instead of melting into a sauce and the dish remained elusive. I let it go for a while but eventually went back to it determined to at least be able to make it if not master it.
I have read many recipes and tried it different ways. Traditionally no oil is required to make it and the idea is to melt the cheese with some of the starchy pasta water to create a sauce. Any sauce-making aides like oil or butter are not necessary and butter is a no-no that Italians reject. Well, I wish you good luck in melting that cheese into a sauce with just pasta cooking water.
This, however, seems to work for me, with a little olive oil: Place the oil with plenty of coarsely ground or crushed pepper in a large skillet. When the pasta is ready add some of the starchy cooking water to the skillet and then add the pasta. Now add the cheese and toss the pasta with tongs until the cheese melts into the pasta creating a sauce. Keep adding a little pasta water as needed to help melt the cheese and create a saucy consistency. Full disclosure: I am still left occasionally with a couple of lumps of stubborn cheese that refuses to melt but I just remove them, there is enough sauce in the skillet to make the dish work.
In Italy it is considered one of those midnight dishes that you make after the opera when you come home and want something to eat. We make it for dinner. Whenever you choose to make it, it’s deliciously simple.
1 lb spaghetti
3 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups finely shredded pecorino romano
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When the water is boiling salt it well and then add the pasta. Cook the pasta just less than the package instructions as it will continue cooking in the sauce later.
While the water is boiling have a large skillet ready. Add the oil and pepper and warm up. Keep warm.
When the pasta is ready (keep the water) transfer it into the skillet with the oil and stir. Add about a cup of the pasta water and the cheese and stir so it melts together with the oil and creates a sauce. Add more pasta water as needed to create a sauce consistency but don’t t dilute it too much.
Add more pepper if you wish and a little salt.
Serve immediately, piled into pasta bowls with extra shredded pecorino or parmesan.