Cheese & Pepper. What could be better? I dare you to find a better, more satisfying combination of simple ingredients when combined with the right technique that make for one of the best and most beloved pasta dishes ever created.
I first tasted Cacio e Pepe the proper way – while in Rome. I remember sitting in a little side street restaurant, the rain pouring down outside and not another patron in the joint. The two waiters huddled in the corner looking anxiously up at the small tv where their beloved Roma futbol club was playing a match. I remember looking around the restaurant after my first bite, as if my head was on a swivel desperately searching for someone else to share in my new found discovery of pasta I had never dreamed could taste as good.
Needless to say I devoured my first experience of Cacio e Pepe during my time in Rome, returning home to eventually attempt the creamy and peppery dish myself in my humble little kitchen.
I’ll spare you the details of my first few attempts. I’ll just say this – it took me a number of times preparing this dish to get it correct. The term correct could easily be replaced with acceptable. I still cant get the dish to taste as incredible as it did in Rome, nor should I ever expect to.
This dish in theory is super simple, utilizing only a few ingredients. That was the easy part for me. The technique and preparation was the sticking point that seemed to cause me to stumble every darn time. Time after time I managed to make simple mistakes in the preparation of this dish leaving me frustrated and perplexed each time. I pushed on and came up with this technique that seems to work for me the best, with little notes along the way as always.
- 1lb of spaghetti or long pasta
- Fresh ground pepper
- Fresh Pecorino Romano Cheese
- EVOO (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Some recipes call for adding salt to your pasta water. I’ve found this to give the overall taste of the pasta afterwards over the top salty. Remember, the Pecorino Romano already has a lot of salt in it and for me that was all the saltiness I needed in the dish overall.
In a separate large bowl mix your Pecorino Romano (about 1 – 1/2 cups) and your freshly ground pepper, incorporating nicely.
Cook your pasta until al dente. Drain your pasta but keep some of the pasta water over low heat. Add a large spoonful to your large bowl of cheese and pepper, stirring vigorously. Continue to add spoonfuls of hot pasta water until your cheese and pepper mix becomes more of a paste. Add in your steaming hot pasta, mixing continuously. Continue mixing everything together until you get a creamy coating on your pasta.
I’ve found the cheese can lump up if your pasta water/pasta is not hot enough. If this happens, continue to add small amounts of hot pasta water and continue to mix until your result is nice a creamy throughout. Add additional pepper as needed.
Note: The technique you use is where this recipe will come together or get ruined – as I have found out many times before. The crucial aspect of this preparation is to make sure the cheese melts evenly and coats your pasta in a thick and creamy sauce. Don’t get discouraged as I did at first, wondering why I was messing up what was supposed to be such an easy recipe. If at first it doesn’t come out, simply try again until you work out the kinks in your preparation – because ultimately this dish can easily become one of your most favorite foods to impress your friends with!