Cacio e Pepe – Simple & Sublime Spaghetti

My friend Joel pointed me in the direction of this easy and incredibly satisfying pasta dish from Rome. Like many of my favorite Italian dishes it involves just a few very basic staples; it demonstrates once again that you can make wonderful food from virtually nothing with just a little invention and a little care.

This pasta involves irresponsible amounts of butter, absurd amounts of good cheese, and a ridiculous amount of cracked black pepper. The result is direct, robust, and zesty. And it’s super-soul-satisfying. But this ain’t no diet dish, ya dig? If you’ve started your New Year Diet you may want to bookmark this recipe and come back to it later.

You’ll need:

  • 16 ounces spaghetti (I used no 5, which is basically standard-gauge spaghetti)
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 heaping teaspoon of freshly (corasely) ground black pepper
  • 2 cups freshly grated aged Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Now do this:

Bring about 8 quarts of water to a boil. Add a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt and then drop in the pasta. Stir the spaghetti around so it doesn’t clump together. Your spaghetti should be cooked until just under al dente, which will be about eight minutes. You want the pasta flexible but still a little firm. It shouldn’t crack in the middle, but should be toothsome. Undercook it if you’re uncertain about the true meaning of al dente. You’ll be cooking it another minute anyway when you transfer it to the saute pan.

While the pasta is cooking, add the olive oil and half the softened butter to a very large saute pan or a wide, shallow pot. Over medium-low heat, melt the butter.

When the pasta is cooked to al dente, reserve about two cups of the pasta-cooking water in a measuring cup. Drain the pasta in a colander and add to the saute pan. Add one cup of pasta water to the pasta and turn the heat up to medium. Now add the cracked pepper and about one cup of Parmesan. Using a pair of tongs, vigorously swirl and toss the pasta in the pan until the cheese melts. Add the other half of the Parmesan and repeat the process. You need to move the pasta around a lot to prevent the cheese from gathering into clumps.

Now add the remaining butter and the grated Pecorino and stir to combine. If the pasta appears dry add more of the pasta water. It shouldn’t be watery, but you need enough water to thin out the cheese and give the cheese sauce enough liquid to nicely coat the pasta.

Remove the pasta and transfer to a serving dish. Eat this with a little crisp green salad to cut the fat a bit. It makes a lovely lunch, dinner, or even breakfast!

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