Saturday, November 19, 2016

Bucatini Cacio e Pepe or Pasta with Crushed Black Pepper and Pecorino Cheese

It's been called an adult version of Mac and Cheese, although I never think of it that way. I suppose if you added more cheese than I do, it might taste similar. But I'm making the classic and now once again quite popular restaurant dish favored throughout Italy. So we have more of an emphasis on the black pepper taste than a gooey cheesy meal.

Julian's Creamy Cacio e Pepe
Cacio is the local Roman dialect word for Pecorino Romano, a sheep’s-milk cheese made in the region since ancient times. The word pepe means pepper. Cacio e pepe is a relative newcomer to the Roman repertoire, first appearing in the mid-twentieth century. The pasta is tossed with a sauce of Pecorino cheese and black pepper that is bound by starchy pasta cooking water. To improve moisture on the plate, I add a little olive oil.

Finely grated Pecorino cheese and very hot water are essential to a smooth sauce, while fresh, coarsely ground black pepper gives flavor and texture. The most important component of a flawless cacio e pepe, however, is speed. If the water cools before melting the cheese, the sauce will clump. I find having a helper is best when making this dish. One person tosses the hot pasta while the tosses in the cheese, pepper, pasta water and olive oil.

Julian grating cheese in Italy.
Ingredients (serves 4)
Salt for the pasta water
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns,
     or more to your taste
1 pound pasta noodles of your choice
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Pecorino cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Olive oil, 3 tablespoons

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, grind the peppercorns very coarsely. Note that the measurement of peppercorns is done BEFORE grinding.

Cook the pasta until al dente (just a bit chewy). Scoop out and reserve 2 cups of the starchy hot pasta water. Drain the pasta and return it to the hot pot it cooked in. Work quickly.

Immediately scatter most of the grated cheese and most of the ground pepper on the pasta, and toss together quickly. As you mix, add a little of the reserved hot water to moisten and amalgamate the pasta with the cheese. Add more water as necessary to create a creamy sauce. Toss with a little olive oil to lubricate further, as the pasta will continue to absorb the water and it may become too dry as it cools without the oil. Sprinkle the top of the pasta with the remaining cheese and pepper. Serve while the pasta is hot.

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