Utterly simple yet supremely satisfying, Cacio e Pepe is the quintessential pasta dish from Roman cuisine. “Cacio e Pepe” means “cheese and pepper”. Because the recipe is so elemental, it depends on using only three highest-quality ingredients possible. As the name suggests, the ingredients of the dish are very simple and include only black pepper, Pecorino Romano cheese, and pasta such as a long, thin spaghetti like tonnarelli or vermicelli. A true cacio e pepe recipe does not needs any oil, cream or butter.
The cacio e pepe recipe is one of the most ancient Italian dishes. The legend of this recipe dates back to the days of the Roman Empire. For centuries, cacio e pepe has been the perfect meal of the Roman shepherds. Dried pasta, aged pecorino and black peppers are easy-to-carry ingredient and hard to spoil.
One of the things I learned from experienced cooks is that the most difficult recipes are the simply ones – the ones with less ingredients.
If you were to watch a practiced hand make cacio e pepe, you might think the instructions were as simple as this: Cook spaghetti and drain. Toss with grated Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper. Serve. But we all know that the simplest recipes can often be the most confounding, and so it is with cacio e pepe. The most important steps to be taken in preparing this dish is to leave some of the hot cooking water with the pasta and speed: If the water cools before melting the cheese, the sauce will clump.The heat melts the cheese, while the starches in the water help bind the pepper and cheese to the pasta, creating a creamy, emulsified sauce that coats each strand of spaghetti with flavor.
4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a small ladle of pasta cooking water. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste.
When the pasta is cooked, use a large strainer to remove it from the cooking water and quickly add it to the sauce in the bowl, keeping the cooking water boiling on the stove. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water a tablespoon or two at a time as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a creamy sauce that completely coats the pasta.
Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
And if you really want the full Roman traditional experience of eating cacio e pepe, make a crispy Parmesan bowl. Simply spread 3/4 cup Parmesan in a thin layer on the bottom of a non-stick saucepan and cook for three minutes, or until it becomes pliable. Remove the cheese sheet from the pan with a spatula and use a ramekin or small bowl to mold it.Arrange the cacio e pepe in its cheese cradle and top with more cheese.
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