Saturday, August 9, 2014

Italian Pasta Classics - Cacio e Pepe

For the latest edition of our recurring series of essential Italian Pasta recipes (check out the first and second installments here), we are making possibly the simplest and most purely satisfying dish of them all - one that hails from Lazio region where you find the Eternal City of Rome: Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe or Spaghetti with Cheese and Pepper. 
Cacio e Pepe, a simple comfort food for your Italian Table, Photo: NK
Rome is known for its often rich and decadent (yet simple) pastas. Other traditional sauce preparations include the ever-popular Amatriciana, Gricia, and perhaps the most well known of the bunch, Carbonara. We enjoyed them all immensely during our gorgeous family trip to Rome just last year. What I wouldn't give to relive that week right about now!

Luckily, another flavorful pasta from Italy's Lazio region is just minutes (and less than 4 ingredients) away. Cacio e Pepe is a comfort dish that is packed with flavor thanks to pecorino (sheep's milk) cheese and spicy and freshly crushed black peppercorn. Think of it like a stripped down Carbonara. 

Crush the peppercorns right before cooking, Photo:NK

But first things first - It's important to note that true Cacio e Pepe will have absolutely no oil, butter, or milk. Then how do you achieve the creaminess that makes this dish so effortlessly decadent? It's all in the execution. 

For a few pointers on how to perfect this exquisitely simple, rustic plate, we turn to Lidia Bastianich, who is, in my mind, a trusted source for all things authentically Italian.

Image and below text courtesy of Lidia's Italy

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
Lightly Adapted from Lidia Bastianich
Serves 2 as a hearty entree, 4 as an appetizer course

1 Cup of high quality Pecorino Romano Cheese (Lidia recommends aged 8-10 months)
2.5  Tablespoons Whole Peppercorns, crushed with a mortar and pestle or heavy object
1/2 Lb fine quality dry Spaghetti - we like Garofalo brand 
It's all in how you mix it, Photo: NK

1. Set a pot of well salted water to boil.

2. Cook Spaghetti according to package directions, making sure it's al dente.
As pasta comes close to cooking, warm a large heat proof bowl. You can do this by ladling some hot pasta water into it and discarding. 

3. Once Pasta is cooked, use tongs to grasp it and transfer it to the warmed bowl, holding it over the pot to drain for a minute. 

4. Now add the grated Pecorino to the bowl right away, tossing the pasta quickly as you continually sprinkle in the Pepper. As you toss using your tongs, add spoonfuls of Pasta Water to moisten the Spaghetti and allow the Cheese to blend nicely. Feel free to add more Pepper or Cheese to taste. Serve immediately and very hot.
Buon appetito! 

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