Friday, March 21, 2014

How to Make Cacio e Pepe at Home

Cacio e Pepe.   Cacio e Pepe.   Cacio e Pepe.

Cacio e Pepe at Home

Doesn't that just have a nice ring to it? Well guess what, it is not just an appetizing name! Cacio e Pepe is basically fancy Italian mac-n-cheese! Yes, the Italians like "mac-n-cheese" too! I first heard about this Italian dish while watching Rick Steves to prepare for our family Europe trip. If it is good enough for Mr. Steves, the Godfather of European travel to eat, then it is good enough to go to the top of our must-try list! We did get the chance to try cacio e pepe in Rome, you can read about it here. Just as we imagined, we loved it and could not wait to make it back home. Easier said then done! Our first attempt was a disaster, the cheese balled up, nothing melted, it was a hot mess. 

I was determined to master cacio e pepe! The Italians would not win this round, I WAS going to make it and it WAS going to be GREAT. After scouring the internet for tips and tricks, I eventually decided on this recipe to guide me.

  • 1 package/box of spaghetti
  • 1 wedge of high quality Pecorino Romano cheese (the more aged the better)
  • Black pepper to taste (better if freshly ground)
  • Coarse salt (yes you will need some even though Pecorino Romano has lots of salt, otherwise the dish will be bland)
  1. Grate Pecorino Romano cheese. This can be done ahead of time.
  2. Bring water to a boil in a tall pot.  The level of water should not exceed ¾ of the pot’s height.
  3. When water boils, add salt. Consider that Pecorino Romano cheese is very salty, therefore, my advice is to add HALF of the amount of salt for cooking Cacio e Pepe.
  4. Add pasta and cook al dente.
  5. 1-2 minutes before pasta is cooked, place a glass serving bowl on top of the pot to heat it. This is a very important step in order to get a creamy sauce.
  6. Reserve some pasta water using a ladle. While you’re boiling spaghetti, the pasta releases starch into the water.  Since starch is naturally sticky, it helps Pecorino Romano cheese fats to amalgamate well with both water and pasta.
  7. Drain pasta and transfer it to the heated serving bowl.
  8. Gradually add Pecorino Romano cheese and water tossing vigorously until you get a creamy consistency.
  9. If the sauce becomes too watery, add Pecorino Romano cheese; if it becomes too dry, add water.
  10. Season with lots of freshly ground black pepper and toss.

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