Italian Regional Recipes Primi Piatti: Pasta, Rice, Soups

Roman Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe is a pasta dish from Roma. “Cacio e pepe” means “cheese and black pepper”. The word Cacio means Cheese in several central Italian dialects, in this recipe it refers to Romanesco dialect for Pecorino, the sheep’s milk cheese, one of the cheese simbol of Roman cuisine.

Cacio e Pepe has only three ingredients: cheese, black pepper and cooking water. Cacio e Pepe seems easy to make, but it is also easy to make mistakes.


Before starting Cacio e Pepe cooking, here is some useful Tips:

  • Strictly al dente cooking: pasta has to cook in boiling water max 6 minutes and the rest of the cooking in the pan.
  • No oil – No butter – No fat addition
  • No Parmigiano in Cacio e Pepe, only Pecorino Romano cheese: well ok, this is the tradition, nevertheless if you don’t have Pecorino or simply don’t like it, go for Parmigiano or a cheese that has a good flavour and can be finely grated.
  • Black Pepper: another secret of cacio e pepe is black pepper, but the whole black pepper grains then crushed, instead of the powdered pepper. Ok not everyone do this in Italy, especially when cooking in a rush, but this technique it’s worth it a try.
  • Cooking Water: do not underestimate it as it is a partner in crime to get a creamy sauce and avoid the cheese block effect. Just use less cooking water for pasta than usually used (about half of it), because one of the important elements to help getting a creamy result and avoid lumps, is to use hot cooking water richer in starch released during cooking.

Serves 4, Preparation time 10 mins, Cooking time 10 mins

  • Spaghetti or Linguine (or short pasta), 320 g
  • Black pepper in grains, 12
  • 200 g grated Pecorino Romano cheese, better if medium-aged
  • Salt, to taste

Method

Boil the water in a pot, as soon as it boils, add the spaghetti.

Meantime crush black pepper grains on a chopping board by using a mortar&pestle or a meat pestle or whatever you have to hand.

Toast only half of the crushed black pepper in a large non-stick pan over low heat for few mins, without adding anything but a ladle of hot cooking water for pasta, creating a sort of pepper-scented broth.

Drain spaghetti al dente by picking them with kitchen tongs, pour them directly in the pan with toasted pepper: spaghetti will finish their cooking like this. Keep aside cooking water.
Keep stirring pasta with kitchen tongs and add a ladle of water if necessary.

Let’s make Pecorino cream.

Put about half of grated Pecorino cheese into a bowl, add a ladle of hot cooking water and stir vigorously with a whisk – add more water if necessary to get a Pecorino cream. Then add the remaining amount of Pecorino, keeping a little bit aside to season at the end.

Tip: at this stage you have to balance Pecorino and hot water very well to get a cream of the right texture and without lumps.

As soon as pasta has finished its cooking in the pan with black pepper, turn off the heat and pour Pecorino cream.
While pouring Pecorino cream on spaghetti, move them continuously with the kitchen tongs or a fork (wooden is better), pour other grated Pecorino kept aside, stir and sauté pasta again, plate Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe, add the rest of black pepper and serve immediately.

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