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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Cacio e Pepe

Welcome to the second instalment of Kit’s Cucina’s Trip to Italy, Rome special.  This instalment, let’s talk about “cacio e pepe”.

While we were in Rome, my wife was thrilled to remake her acquaintance with this dish; essentially cheese and pepper with pasta. This is a quintessentially “Rome” (as opposed to Roman) dish.  Jane particularly liked it because it ticked her "simple but tasty" boxes while not being considered a kid’s meal or pretend food.

That said, this is THE trendy dish of the moment in Australia – we discovered on our return.  The Age/Sydney Morning Herald not only made it the lead recipe in their food supplement last week, but it was the cover dish on their promotion for their Good Food Guide for 2018-19 (pictured here). So here’s my take on it if you would like to be on the zeitgeist, as it were.

Cacio e Pepe

Purists only use pecorino (a sheep milk cheese) and pepper for this dish, and I have even seen some restauranteurs simply rolling pasta in a whole wheel of this cheese to serve.  But considering your wallet, and this version's need to run a couple of pans, I’d supplement the pecorino with parmigiana and warm the pepper first in some olive oil, with a little bit of garlic to make it officially Italian.  The real trick is to preserve the pasta cooking water and use this to lube up the cheese sauce so it goes slick and covers the pasta.  To wit, my version:


Pasta: spaghetti, 1 pack (400 g)
Pecorino: 320g grated
Parmigiano: 120g grated
Freshly cracked pepper
Olive oil
Garlic (a couple of cloves)

1.     Cook the pasta in a large pot of salty water.  When the spaghetti is approximately 2 minutes off perfect, drain the pasta and save about a cup of the starchy water for use in the sauce.
2.     In a large pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil on a low heat, then roughly crack black pepper into it.  Quite a lot actually, more than you’d think… at least 2 teaspoons worth.  Also throw in a couple of crushed garlic cloves (optional – not in the real deal), and warm through to flavour the oil (do not let the garlic brown, but get it transclucent).
3.     Tip the cooked pasta into the pan with the oil, pepper and garlic, turn off heat, and toss in the cheeses.  Now add the warm cooking water, a bit at a time, to get the consistency right; the cheese sauce should wind up like thick cream coating the pasta.
4.     Serve in four warmed pasta bowls, and top with additional cracked pepper and grated cheese.

Top end gourmet Italian restaurants in Rome would serve this dish with the pasta spiraled neatly on the plate.  Here’s a video that shows you how, though I think they could have got more on the fork, and with the cheese sauce you would roll it up with the ladle on an angel and get more sauce covering.

Next week, some restaurant tips in Rome…