How to make Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe like a Roman
It took me years to make a decent Cacio e Pepe, one of Rome’s traditional pasta dishes (the others are Carbonara, Matriciana, and Gricia).
Since Cacio e Pepe has only three main ingredients -Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper and pasta-, it might seem an easy recipe to make – but it isn’t.
One of the things I learned from Italian cooks is that the most difficult recipes are the simply ones – the ones with less ingredients. For example, if you want to cook a superb Pasta al Pomodoro, you need to get high quality tomatoes –and choose the right type like San Marzano- , otherwise you will end up with a soggy sauce. Also, to get the right consistency, cooking time is crucial to let excess water evaporate from the sauce.
As regards to Cacio e Pepe, the quality of ingredients, quantities and timing must be considered to get good results. But first, let me get something straight – Cacio e Pepe does NOT have:
- Heavy cream
- Any vegetable oil
- Parmigiano Reggiano
So how come it has that creamy consistency ? See the recipe below…
- 400 grams of Spaghetti (if you can find Tonnarelli better)
- About 200-250 grams 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)
- Grate Pecorino Romano cheese.
- In the meantime bring water to a boil in a tall pot. The level of water should not exceed ¾ of the pot’s height. Keep in mind that for 100 grs of pasta, you should use 10 grs of salt and 1 liter of water.
- 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.
- Add pasta and cook al dente.
- 1-2 minutes before pasta is cooked, place a serving bowl on top of the pot to heat it. This is a very important step in order to get a creamy sauce.
- 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.
- Drain pasta and transfer it to the heated serving bowl.
- Gradually add Pecorino Romano cheese and water tossing vigorously until you get a creamy consistency.
- If the sauce becomes too watery, add Pecorino Romano cheese; if it becomes too dry, add water.
- Season with lots of freshly ground black pepper and toss.