Cacio e pepe is one of the simplest Italian dishes, and also happens to be my absolute favorite. It’s warm, comforting, cheesy, peppery, salty, and buttery. What could make any dish better than that? I was immediately inspired to cook this dish after seeing a special issue of Gourmet Magazine (I miss it) on the drugstore shelf. This issue features 103 pasta dishes, where one of the first recipes is cacio e pepe. Their recipe is a little different than my version below, mainly because of the different measurements, and the suggestion to not use a microplane to grate the cheese. I used one, which worked just fine. I find my way a little simpler, and not as fussy. It’s really hard to argue with Gourmet, but judging from the magazine pictures, mine looks creamier. Try both if you’d like.
Cacio e pepe (pronounced: kachio eh peppe) is a traditional Roman dish, literally meaning cheese and pepper, which is essentially the entire recipe. Ok, there’s a few more ingredients to it, but the type of cheese and cracked pepper make the dish distinct. When making cacio e pepe, I strongly suggest one thing: USE FRESH PASTA! Life is too short not to use fresh pasta. In this case, your selection should be spaghetti. If you can make the pasta yourself, great (recipe for dough below). If not, I suggest going to the Atwater Market, Cavallaro (on Sherbrooke St.), Pasta Casareccia, Milano’s, anywhere in little Italy, or if you’re Italian ask your Nonna to make it for you. You may be wondering why I call this “a recipe of 1’s”. That’s because each ingredient’s quantity is “1” of something…you’ll see what I mean. The prep time is the longest part, if you’re making your own pasta. If you’re buying it FRESH, it’s a 10 minute dish at most, including prep time. Once the fresh pasta hits the boiling water, the total cooking time of the entire dish is about 4-5 minutes, so be prepared to work quickly. Enjoy the simplicity that is cacio e pepe.
Cacio e Pepe
This recipe is for 1 portion. Feel free to double, triple, or even quadruple the recipe based on the number of people you are serving. The important thing to keep in mind is to not cut any corners. Cacio e pepe should be served right away to experience it at the most optimal point.
100 grams of spaghetti (If you’re buying it fresh, and not making it yourself. See the recipe for fresh pasta below)
100 grams of Pecorino Romano, very finely grated (This is the best cheese to use here due to it’s saltiness, and creamy texture when melted. Parmigiano Reggiano is a good option but Pecorino Romano is better in this recipe. They should be next to each other in the grocery store)
1 teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Tools: 1 pot of boiling water, 1 medium non-stick frying pan, tongs, ladle
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add some salt and a few drops of olive oil to it.
2. While the water is heating up, grate the Pecorino Romano into a bowl. If you have a microplane, that works best. The smallest holes on a box grater work well too. The idea is to finely grate the cheese where it’s fluffy to the touch; you don’t want thick strands since it won’t melt as well. Set aside.
3. Grind 1 teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper and set aside.
4. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta. At an adjacent burner on your stove, heat a pan to medium-low heat (Tip: it’s best to work with the water on the back burner, and the pan in front of it). When the pan is hot, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. By the time that melts and has heated up, the pasta should be ready. (Remember: fresh pasta only takes 2-3 minutes to cook, not 7).
5. When the pasta is cooked, add the pasta directly into the pan with the butter and olive oil. Toss to incorporate. Add all the grated cheese, pepper, and pour 1 ladle of pasta-water from the pot. Keep stirring until the cheese is melted and has turned into the sauce. This should take about 30-45 seconds.
6. Serve hot, and Enjoy!
Ingredients for pasta dough:
100 grams of double zero flour (If you don’t have this type of flour, use all purpose. The double zero flour is finer and makes the dough chewier without too much elasticity. I strongly recommend this one.)
1 large egg
1. On a large working surface/counter, place the flour in a pile, then with a couple fingers, make a well or a large ring.
2. Crack the egg in the middle of the well, and with a fork, beat the egg, slowly incorporating some of the flour from the sides. Keep mixing until you can’t mix with the fork anymore.
3. At that point, move all the flour into the egg mixture and knead with you hands for about 5-7 minutes. It should form a dense piece of dough. When this has formed, loosely wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for 45 minutes to an hour to rest.
4. After 45 minutes to an hour, roll the dough out on the counter to about 1/4 inches thick. Add some flour to the dough if it’s sticky.
5. Place the dough in your pasta machine, and roll it though, adjusting the thickness one notch lower each time. Stop at the second to last thickness; I find the last one makes the dough too thin and difficult to work with. Cut the dough into spaghetti with the proper attachment, and set aside for 10 minutes to dry out.