One of my travel companions, Andrew heard about it on Anthony Bourdain’s Layover programme. It’s a Roman speciality and sums up the alchemy of Italian cuisine- a few ingredients that together transform into something delicious.
Pecorino, freshly ground pepper, pasta, and maybe a little butter. Here it’s pepper’s pungent aromatics that are the star, bringing a gentle heat, round and rich. It’s easy to forget pepper is a spice in its own right, so accustomed are we to adding it to everything as a background seasoning.
Pecorino is the name for Italian sheep cheese and you are looking for Pecorino Romano, a grating variety. You could substitute Parmesan, but then it wouldn’t be true Roman Cacio e Pepe. Pronounce it Kachio eh Pepe. For Kiwis the Italian vowels are the same as Maori.
Cacio e pepe
500g long egg pasta, Tonnarelli best, Spaghetti also good
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano
1 1/2 cup pasta water
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
Boil a large pot of water while you grate cheese and grind the pepper.
Cook the pasta so it is al’dente. Before you drain laddle out 1 1/2 cups of the water the pasta was cooked in. Now you can drain it.
In a large saute pan, melt the butter. Add reserved pasta water and grated cheese. Cream together to form a sauce. Add the cracked pepper.
Add pasta and toss until evenly coated. Add more water, cheese or pepper if necessary. Check for salt, you may not need it.
Serve with sprinkling of cheese and pepper.