Italian language and cooking lesson for the day: Cacio E Pepe, or as the Romans call it, Cheese and Pepper, is one of the simplest and most DELICIOUS pasta dishes you will ever taste. Caveat: If you don’t like black pepper, probably best to skip this one. There’s not a huge amount, but it does have a starring role.
Why is this dish so good? I have no idea, because in all my years of recipe development I never thought to combine the three simple kitchen staples of cheese, butter and pepper with pasta. Oh yes, did I mention this is not a low-calorie dish? And that’s OK because I don’t count ’em to begin with, but I DO count enjoyment and believe whole-heartedly in blending it with sacrifice (as in the way I sacrifice white carbs much of the time) and discipline. This is for those times when you’re relaxing stringency and discipline for the evening. Go ahead, it’s OK. Even necessary. Tomorrow you can eat more veggies and go for a longer walk.
In all my travels, I’ve never once seen Cacio E Pepe on a restaurant menu. It’s known as a classic Italian peasant dish and possibly considered too unsophisticated for some establishments. Pity. I’d put this up against any truffled pasta dish. It’s that good. Also helping the WOW factor: It’s the dead of winter and at no other time of the year does a warm bowl of creamy pasta taste and feel so desperately comforting.
12ouncesgluten-free pastasuch as spaghetti or fettucine
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2tablespoonsfresh ground pepperDon't use the finely milled kind out of the pepper shaker
2 cupsgrated Peccorino cheeseLike Parmesan, but sheep's milk-derived
11/2cupsreserved pasta water
1tablespoon light olive oil
Fill a large stock pot half-full with water and bring to a boil. Add about a tablespoon of light olive oil, then add pasta. Stir occasionally and cook for 8 minutes. Pull a strand and see if it's done. Pasta should be al dente but not too soft.
In a large skillet, melt butter. Once butter is melted add the pepper and cook about a minute. Then add cheese and blend well with a fork or whisk. Toss cooked pasta in and use tongs to coat well with sauce. Add the pasta water gradually, giving it time to absorb into the pasta. Don't be alarmed if it looks watery for a few minutes. It will eventually morph into a gorgeous, creamy texture.
When pasta is cooked to your liking, carefully drain it but reserve 1 1/2 cups of the water and set aside. Return pasta to the stock pot and cover tightly. The burner should not be on.
Divide into four bowls and serve immediately. Add more pepper and cheese to each serving, if desired.
Cook's Tip - If you think you'll have leftovers, reserve another cup of pasta water. The best way to reheat any pasta is baked in the oven, tightly covered. I use clay crocks but casserole dishes work well also. Before heating, douse pasta with the reserved pasta water and love it all over again!