Hearty cacio e pepe pasta quite simply symbolizes Rome in a bowl. This ancient Roman dish is temperamental (the heat of the pepper contrasted with the silky rich full flavour of the cheese), gritty (the grainy mouth-feel of pepper and cheese), and spirited (vigorous tossing required to blend the ingredients).
Cacio e pepe pasta is best made with more than one cheese such as Pecorino Romano, a hard cheese made with aged ewe’s milk and Parmigiano. The result is richer, stronger, tangier and more complex than the single-origin version.
Made with only 4 simple ingredients it is all about mastering the technique of melting the cheese into the pasta water to form a smooth silky sauce. One mistake and it will be an awful mess of stringy cheese, but when it comes together, it’s strepitoso (phenominal)!
Cacio e pepe pasta (cheese and pepper pasta)
- 500g spaghetti
- 75g Pecorino Romano (grated)
- 75g Parmigiano Reggiano (grated)
- 1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
Fill a pasta pot with water, add salt and bring to the boil on high heat. Drop in the pasta and cook until just off al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water a minute or so before draining the pasta. Place half a cup of the pasta water in a pan together with the pepper plus a splash of olive oil and bring to the boil.
Place the almost cooked pasta in the pan and cook for a further minute in the pepper water to infuse the flavour until al dente. Add a splash more of the reserved pasta water if the pasta seems to dry. Turn off the heat and let the pasta rest in the pan for 1 minute (Letting the pasta rest before you add the cheese prevents it from melting and becoming stringy.)
Add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, stirring vigorously and shaking the pan until the cheese form a homogenous, emulsified sauce. Add a bit more pasta water if the sauce needs loosening.
There is a difference in opinion amongst Italians whether the pepper should be fried in oil before adding the pasta water, but be careful if you do, as it can add a bitter note to the dish.
Looking for more authentic local Italian recipes from the Eatsplorer Kitchen to cook at home? This Homemade tagliatelle with Wild Mushroom by chef Lapo Magni is a winner!
Production and photography: Liezel Norval-Kruger