I think the title of this post says it all about my feelings (and others) about this famous Roman dish of pasta, traditionally spaghetti, with pecorino cheese and a good amount of freshly ground pepper. The name says is all – cacio, meaning cheese, and pepe meaning pepper. We’re not breaking any new ground here because I’m sure there’s about 50 other food blogs that have made this dish. I’m just here hoping that if anyone does make it, they try to make it the freshest and best way they can.
I’m going to get my food snob on here – please do not make this dish soley with parmigiano reggiano and that crappy, old shaker filled with pepper that you may only bust out when laying out your fine china on one or two holidays a year. The pepper most likely has zero flavor anymore – if you do, please name the dish whatever you want. I personally think “Pasta with Parmigiano Reggiano and Crappy Old, Non-Spicy Pepper from the Depths of My Cupboard” works great! If you go to the store and spend $4 you can get some black peppercorns. Just put them into a pepper grinder or, if you don’t have one, throw the peppercorns in a plastic baggie and grab a meat mallet or a hammer and get out your aggressions. Keep hammering until you’ve produced some nice, ground pepper. Make a lot if you’d prefer to not have to go through this exercise again and freeze the extras to prevent the pepper from going bad (ie: flavorless).
The reason I’m so passionate about this is because you can not recreate the amazing flavor of this old, traditional dish if you do not have good pepper. When freshly ground, pepper is very spicy and full of flavor. It is not supposed to just produce a nice contrast of color to a boring meal – although the beauty of it is it does that too! Research taught me that in ancient Rome pepper was extremely popular and was used for medicinal reasons by the ancient Greeks. It was revered as a very valuable spice. As for the cheese, I’ll go a bit easier on you if you don’t use the Pecorino cheese, but I’ll give you a light tap on the bum so you’ll remember to try it with that cheese next time. Pecorino would only be used in this dish in Rome because, well, that’s the regional cheese in that area. If you look close at the label, it’s really called Pecorino Romano, right? Parmigiano and pecorino are two very different tasting cheeses. In fact, there are many varieties of pecorino in Italy ranging from soft to hard versions of the cheese. For this discussion, we are generally talking solely about Pecorino Romano – the hard cheese that is able to be grated. If you do a comparison, I’d imagine you’d notice that pecorino is much sharper in taste where parmigiano is more nutty and mellow in flavor. Both are pretty nice and salty, which is why you should not have to salt this dish. Some people feel very strongly about choosing one of these cheeses over the other. Because of this, we have chosen to use a mixture of the cheeses for this version of cacio e pepe. This way you get a blend of the cheese. But in Rome, you will most likely find the dish made only with pecorino.
When made correctly, you will not believe how unbelievably creamy and spicy this dish is. I felt like we were back in Rome (of course only if I closed my eyes VERY hard and did not open them to reveal a very closet-like, dirty Brooklyn apartment). This dish is so quick and easy, I’m sure Rachel Ray couldn’t even make it because she’d only fill 1/8 of a show. Give it a try – you won’t be disappointed.
Also, months ago we wrote a post on a great NYC restaurant with the same name as this dish. If you’re ever in New York, I’d advise you to give this awesome restaurant a try… and order their signature dish made in a hollowed out wheel of pecorino!
- 3/4 pound of spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper (depending on how spicy you want it!)
- a bit of the pasta cooking liquid (about 1/4 to 1/2 of a ladel-full)
- 1/2 cup of freshly ground pecorino romano
- 1/2 cup freshly ground parmigiano reggiano
What to do:
- Boil your spaghetti until perfectly al dente (about 7 minutes)
- In a separate pan, on low-medium heat, add your butter, oil and 1/2 of your pepper and allow the butter to melt, swirly the pan around to help it move a bit.
- When spaghetti is done, add a bit of the cooking liquid to your melted butter/pepper/olive oil sauce and swirl the pot again. Turn heat down to low. Add your spaghetti and toss once.
- Turn the heat OFF. Add your cheeses and the rest of the pepper and toss the spaghetti again in the pan.
- Plate and top with a sprinkle more of pepper and cheese. Voila! DONE.