Trawling through the recipes for pasta dishes often reveals a few that have made their mark with chefs, not for complexity but for their sheer simplicity. One in particular, cacio e pepe really sorts out great Italian chefs and I guess others too from various parts of the world. The dish is all about precision and yet it only employs a few simple ingredients.
Firstly, it is not your mac’n’ cheese. No, it literally means cheese and pepper but nobody really claims to have the definitive answer. It relies purely taste using the best ingredients. For many purists there is no such thing as adding butter although it does allow some of the flavour to pass into the fat.
Firstly, make sure you have exceptionally high quality pasta, then freshly cracked pepper for that spicy heat and finally great cheese. The cheese might be the secret here. I’ve tried Parmesan, Grana Padano and Pecorino. To be honest its the pecorino that wins but just, over the Grana Padano. The Romans only use pecorino incidentally or so reading the various comments on web-pages about it. Oh by the way, it needs to be Pecorino from Sardinia ! I know some folks grate the cheese on a Microplace rather than shredding it too as this really makes for a fine cheese mix.
Chefs use a skillet rather than pots for the salted water because the starch from the pasta is concentrated and helps make the sauce smoother.
Preparation time: 20 to 30 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Serving number: 2
- salt ( a small amount)
- (optional) 3 tablespoons of cubed unsalted butter
- 6 ounces of great tasting pasta such as spaghetti, bucatini and egg tagliolini
- 1 teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper or better still, toast whole peppercorns in a small cast iron skillet over a medium to high heat, shaking it from time to time so that become aromatic. Crush in a pestle and mortar and then add instead.
- 3/4 cup finely grated Grano Padano (preferred) or Parmesan (if needs be – not wishing to be sniffy here)
- 1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
Preparation Of Cacio e Pepe
- Put a skillet of salted water on to boil.
- In a large bowl, combine the cheeses and black pepper; mash with just enough cold water to make a thick slurry. Spread the mixture evenly in the bowl.
- Once the water is boiling, add the pasta.
- The second before it is still slightly undercooked (by the way it needs tasting frequently once it begins to soften), use tongs to quickly transfer it to the bowl, reserving a cup or so of the cooking water.
- Add cheese mixture to the pasta in small portions, adding a teaspoon or two of olive oil and a bit of the pasta cooking water to thin the sauce if necessary. Flip the pasta and by degrees the sauce clings to the pasta becoming creamier but not more watery.
- Plate and dust each dish with additional pecorino cheese and pepper. Serve immediately.