Friday, November 6, 2015

Cacio e Pepe

It's 6:30 pm on a Wednesday, you just got home, the fridge is empty and you're hungry. What do you do? Prior to my trip to Italy this summer I would have always answered that question by quickly replying "make Ina Garten's Agio e Olio!" but since getting to experience the epitome of simple Italian classic dishes, Cacio e Pepe, in Rome I've added a new quick and easy weeknight pasta to my repertoire! Even when it may appear that the fridge is empty and there's nothing to make, I always make sure that my cupboards and fridge are stocked just enough to be able to throw together a tasty pasta on the fly. In order to keep myself prepared come the mid-week hunger freakout I always make sure to have good quality pasta, peppercorns, olive oil, garlic, and Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino cheese on hand. Truly, that is all you need to whip together a fantastic pasta dinner! 

Though in theory cacio e pepe is simpler than aglio e olio (there are less steps and less ingredients), it is the simplicity of ingredients and preparation that actually makes cacio e pepe trickier to master than it's olive oil sister. With only pasta water, fresh cracked pepper, butter, and cheese, the trick to mastering cacio e pepe is all about finesse in preparation and quality of ingredients. I know, quality ingredients means pricey ingredients, but it is in instances like this where the quality of your ingredients truly makes all the difference. With so few ingredients, you really have to use the best in order to get the most flavour, so make friends with your local cheesemonger (get out of the grocery store and visit a gourmet cheese shop or a farmers market for your cheese!) and get yourself a big ol' hunk of parm. In terms of finesse, the way to achieve great results with this pasta is making sure everything is prepped ahead of time, ensuring your pasta is nice and al dente (you want it to have a nice bite), and serving it all up at the exact right moment. The exact right moment is when you have just enough sauce to coat your pasta with a little bit left in the bowl. Don't second guess yourself. If you think it's done, take it off the heat right away! If you take an extra 30-seconds to consider whether your pasta is done, your sauce may have dissipated and your noodles may have over-cooked. Trust your gut! 

With such a simple recipe and such high standards after having an insanely good take on cacio e pepe at Flavio Al Velavevodetto in Rome, I still feel as though I have not perfected my cacio e pepe quite yet. Though it's always delicious and leaves me feeling satiated and comforted, my cacio e pepe is not quite as creamy as the perfect one that I had the pleasure of devouring in Rome. What is my cacio e pepe missing? I still don't have a clue, but I welcome any advice or tricks that you may have to achieving that wonderfully creamy result that I'm dreaming of. Give the dish a try and let me know how it went on Twitter: @thisgingerrose. What did you like about the recipe? Where did you struggle? I want to know! Let's chat! 

  • I like to freshly crack my peppercorns for this dish right before I make it in a mortar and pestle. I highly recommend you do the same for the best flavour!
  • Have everything prepped and in its place before you get anything going on the stove. Crack your pepper, grate your cheeses, set the table, etc. It all goes very quickly as soon as your pasta comes out of the water. 
  • I like to use Molisana dry pasta as a good-quality, yet reasonably priced pasta that I can get at the grocery store. 
Recipe slightly adapted from Bon Appetit
kosher salt
1 lb dry pasta (such as spaghetti, tonnarelli, chittara)
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and divided
2 tsp black peppercorns, freshly cracked
1 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
2/3 cup Pecorino, finely grated

  1. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until very al dente (the pasta will continue to cook in the sauce). Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of pasta water. 
  2. Meanwhile, in a large heavy skillet set to medium heat, toast the pepper for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add 4 Tbsp butter and melt while whisking. Whisk together in pan for 1-minute. 
  3. Add 1-cup reserved pasta water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5-minutes. 
  4. Add pasta and remaining butter and mix together with tongs. Reduce heat to low and add Parmigiano-Reggiano, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. 
  5. Remove pan from heat and add pecorino. Stir and toss until cheese has melted, and the sauce has coated the pasta. Add more pasta water if the pasta seems dry. 
  6. Serve immediately in warmed pasta bowls topped with additional grated Parmigano and a drizzle of good-quality olive oil (optional).
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