It’s something we could all use a little more of.
So I’ll do you a solid and get right to the good stuff, because we both know why you’re here.
Cacio e pepe, literally meaning cheese and pepper in Italian, has only three ingredients: pasta, cheese, and pepper. Simplicity, baby! Those Romans knew what they were doing.
Roman food is typically uncomplicated and cheap because of Rome’s long history of being a working class city. This means dishes have few ingredients that usually don’t cost much – and even better, in a dish with so few ingredients, each flavor has the chance to come through clearly and richly. Cacio e pepe allows just that: in a single bite, every nuance of the Pecorino cheese can be savored and the pepper powerfully asserts its punch.
While this dish is super simple, it does require some finesse in its execution. The trick is to continue tossing the pasta while you add the cheese and pasta water, and to make sure not to add more water than you need. This way you can avoid ending up with clumps of melted Pecorino. But full disclosure: this has happened to me multiple times, and you know what? Clumps of cheese are still delicious. Go figure.
Keep in mind that it has be served right away, because it’s only creamy when it’s warm. (Yes, creamy. Without any butter or oil. I told you those Romans knew what they were doing). It also doesn’t reheat all that well either, so it all has to be eaten right away. Just invite all your friends over and yell at them to “mangia, mangia!”. I’m sure they’ll appreciate that.
Cacio e Pepe
1 pound (454 g) spaghetti
8 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese (2 cups grated)
4 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
Finely grate the Pecorino Romano and set aside (or use a food processor – you want the cheese to be as fine as possible). If you use store-bought grated Pecorino, make sure to sift it to remove any moist clumps.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then cook the spaghetti until just barely al dente, roughly 7 minutes depending on your pasta. It will continue to absorb water while we coat it in its sauce. Reserve about a cup of the starchy pasta water, then drain the spaghetti.
Moving quickly, return the spaghetti to the pot – off the heat – and begin sprinkling in the cheese a little at a time, tossing constantly (I found kitchen tongs to be perfect for this task, but two forks would be a good alternative). Alternate between adding the cheese and a spoon of the starchy pasta water until all your cheese is used up and the pasta is coated in a creamy sauce. You probably won’t need the entire cup of pasta water. Add the black pepper and toss to combine.
Serve immediately into warmed bowls, with more black pepper and grated Pecorino to taste.