Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cacio e Pepe

You know how some of the simplest things in life bring us the most pleasure?  Like a child's giggle, coffee and conversation with your best friend or snuggling on the couch with your beloved.  There are foods like that, too.  So simple but absolutely delicious!  This is one of those recipes that proves it doesn't have to be difficult, take hours to make or have a laundry list of ingredients in order to be something fabulous.  When I show you how few ingredients are in this dish, you will not believe me when I say it is packed with flavor.  I just ask you to go on a little faith here.  Once you try this, you will be left wondering where has it been all your life, & why haven't you made it before?  I know I was!
Cacio e Pepe is, quite literally translated, cheese and pepper.  It is a very traditional Italian dish, and a staple in most homes. 
Are you ready for the Cast of Characters?  Prepare to be amazed by how little goes into this meal!

1 Lb. box of spaghetti
1 Cup of Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. kosher salt

2 Tbsp. peppercorns**

No, I'm not kidding, that's it.  No garlic, onion or tomato.  No basil, oregano or thyme.  You are such a doubting Thomas, but just wait.  Would I steer you wrong?  The answer is, of course, NO!

Fill a large pot full of hot water and dump in your kosher salt.  Yes, you really do want that much salt because you will be using some reserved pasta water later, and the salt in the water is part of the seasoning.  Turn on medium heat for now.

Meanwhile, grate your Pecorino Romano cheese into a large bowl.  Don't be scared by the name of this cheese.  It's not hard to find, nor will it break your piggybank at the checkout.  You can find it in the deli and cheese section of your supermarket, right next to the Parmesan wedges.  You could use Parmesan for this dish, but Pecorino is what the Italians typically use because it has a little different flavor - a little mellower than Parmesan.

After the cheese has been grated, turn your water to high, so it starts boiling.

Next, crushing the peppercorns.  You can use your handy dandy mortar and pestle for this, if you have one.

If not, that's okay.  Put the peppercorns in a ziplock sandwich bag and seal.  Then place that bag in another ziploc bag, just in case the first one tears.  Take a rolling pin or empty wine bottle and press firmly as you roll back and forth.

You want to make sure they are crushed pretty well.  I love pepper, but even I don't want to take a bite of pasta and hit a large chunk of peppercorn.  Just saying.

Put that on top of your cheese.

Once your water is boiling, put the spaghetti in, and cook until 1 minute before tender.  Usually about 10 minues.  When there is about 2 minutes left on the timer, take out 1 1/4 cups of pasta water.  Use 1/4 cup to make a paste with the cheese and pepper, whisking it until smooth.

When the timer goes off, drain the pasta and place in the bowl with the cheese paste.  Add the butter and olive oil.  See the steam coming off the pasta? 

That's what you want.  In order for this dish to pull together, you have to work quickly, at this point.  It is imperative to have hot pasta and pasta water.  Toss the spaghetti with the oil and butter, adding pasta water in, as needed, to make a creamy sauce.

Can you see the spaghetti glistening with sauce, and speckled with pepper?  That, my friend, is what I'm talking about!  It is heavenly!

Garnish with a bit more grated Pecorino Romano and freshly ground pepper.

Plate up immediately.  Again, you want to serve this right away while it is piping hot.


**Note - It is very important to use peppercorns and not just ground pepper. When you crush peppercorns, it releases oils making the flavor more intense. You need that, for this dish to be at it's best.