We need to talk Cacio e Pepe…(VIDEO AT BOTTOM OF POST)
THIS is one of our favorite Italian restaurants where we hang out in the underground hideaway eating platefuls of this rich, salty, deeply satisfying pleasure until the server begins to eye us suspiciously and asks a second time if we would like anything else.
Since lately we haven’t exactly been able to dine out we have had to improvise and with a few simple tricks and techniques it turns out this is a fairly easy dish to make and all for about $8.00!
Did you catch that?? $8.00!
This dish is ALL about technique and one really good cheese….Pecorino Romano (don’t substitute parmesan).
If you have ever had the pleasure of trying to coalesce oil, water and cheese together on a Tuesday night then you certainly understand the phrase clumpy cheese mess and door dash.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
It really is simple to make and with a bit of practice you will be enjoying pasta tossed with an emulsified, creamy sauce in 15 minutes tops. Impress someone with this but practice a few times first.
Here is what you need to know:
STARCHY WATER: the pasta is cooked to al dente in a minimal amount of water. Don’t alter the water amounts in the recipe or it might not turn out. We need some of the extra starchy water the pasta is cooked in to make the sauce.
AGED PECORINO ROMANO: You MUST grate it on the smallest holes on your box grater. We are going for CHEESE DUST here. We want it to be basically powder like so that it melts easily. Also, buy a wedge only. Bag stuff will not work here. I buy an 8 ounce wedge at GIBBS CHEESE (FINDLAY MARKET) for about $8.00. This is enough to make 4 servings of this dish. Also buy THIS pasta. It’s the best on the market and inexpensive.
PEPPER: It’s literally in the name. Use all black peppercorns and grind it fresh. The pepper is toasted in the butter and oil before being added to the pasta and it is a key component of the dish. Don’t skip this step or adding it.
OFF THE HEAT-Add the grated cheese SLOWLY and OFF THE HEAT entirely. Once the emulsion fully forms you can heat it back up a bit on the burner but on low. If the cheese starts to seize and clump up your pasta water/sauce is TOO HOT. After you add the pasta water and pasta to the butter/oil and pepper let the pan cool for about 2 minutes off the stove and then begin to slowly whisk in the finely grated cheese.
OLIVE OIL OR BUTTER: I use olive oil but you can do a mix or add butter at the last minute to give it an extra creamy finish.
- 2 quarts of WATER
- 8 ounces of SPAGHETTI, BUCATINI or TONNARELLI (avoid angel hair or any thin pasta)
- 1 teaspoon of SALT for pasta water (see note)
- At least 2 teaspoons of FRESH CRACKED BLACK PEPPER
- 1-1/2 cups FRESHLY GRATED PECORNIO ROMANO (NO SUBSTITIONS and SEE NOTE)
- 3 tablespoons OLIVE OIL or BUTTER or a mix of both.
- Add 2 quarts water (8 cups) to a Dutch Oven or Stockpot. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and add salt and then add Spaghetti. Cook pasta until barely al dente (a minute or two less than the package directions). Be sure to taste it so you know it is still very firm and cooked enough but not raw.
- While pasta is cooking, melt butter and/or good quality olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add FRESH CRACKED BLACK PEPPERCORNS and then cook/sauté gently for 1 minute until fragrant. Remove pan from heat and set aside until pasta is ready.
- When pasta is al dente, reserve 1¼ cups pasta water and set aside. Drain pasta into a colander but DO NOT RINSE. Set aside.
- Slowly whisk in ½ cup of the slightly cool reserved pasta water into the pan with the olive oil/butter and pepper mixture and let stand for 2 minutes off the heat. If you do not wait your cheese will clump up when you add it to the pan.
- Using tongs add half the pasta from the colander and swirl pasta around the pan to coat. Slowly begin to whisk in the grated cheese. STIR vigorously with a wooden spoon or fork as sauce begins to coalesce and form. If too dry you can add more of the reserved pasta water a few tablespoons at a time until you reach desired consistency.
- As sauce begins to form add remaining pasta and grated cheese and continue to stir.
- Finish off with more fresh ground black pepper and a dusting of cheese.
2) Do not use Parmesan for this recipe. It is best made with Pecorino Romano
3) Grate the cheese on the smallest holes on your box grater. You want this to be fine and powdery and almost like cheese dust.
4) If your cheese begins to seize up and turn into a clumpy mess your pasta or your pasta water is TOO HOT.
If you found the above method didn’t work for you there is a second technique which involves making a “well chilled paste” of the grated cheese and pepper using cold water to form and hold together.
The advantage here is this “paste/thick cream” can be made a day in advance and literally takes only seconds to put together once the hot pasta is ready.
Simply take the Al Dente hot pasta and add a small amount of the starchy pasta water and a few tablespoons of the pre-made paste and WHISK WHISK WHISK in a bowl until the emulsion forms. Having folks over? Super easy barely an inconvenience.
Check out THIS video link to watch how it’s sometimes made in Italy using the paste so they can plate up hot creamy pasta with ease all night long.
I have made it both ways with success!