Friday, August 20, 2010

Cacio e Pepe

My inspiration for this one comes from this week's episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. He went to Rome for the first time (?!#$&*#%&) and made a beeline for one of the most classic Italian dishes - cacio e pepe (spaghetti with cheese and pepper). Do yourself a favor and DVR this episode if you didn't see it - it's on again Monday at 7/6 central on the Travel Channel. You'll find yourself looking up how many frequent flyer miles you need to fly to Rome before the episode is even over.

This dish is as basic as you can get. However, never having made it, I did need a little guidance. I looked up several recipes and they all called for olive oil, butter, cheese, salt, and pepper. Hmm...isn't it called "cacio e pepe"? Not "cacio, pepe, olio, burro, sale". Just sayin'. One even said to add arugula. Arugula?! I looked up recipes in Italian, and through the very little bit of the Italian language I know I gathered that the recipes were all calling for cheese, pepper, and bit of pasta water. That sounds more like the real deal.

Cacio e pepe is traditionally made with tagliolini, spaghetti or bucatini. I couldn't find fresh versions of any of those (and didn't have it in me to make homemade pasta that night) so I went with this imported tagliatelle because it was a very thin egg pasta which would be soft, and perfect for absorbing the cheese sauce.

Here's all you need:

about 9 oz. of pasta (I used half of that package which was 500 grams total)
1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano
1 teaspoon pepper

Boil a pot of well-salted water. For the pepper - I did 1/2 tsp. ground, and the other 1/2 tsp. I put whole peppercorns into a ziploc bag and crushed them so I had some bigger pieces.

Cook the pasta, drain (but save about 1 cup of the water!!), and add the pasta back to the pot with just a touch of olive oil to keep it from sticking together or the pan. Add the cheese, pepper, and roughly 1/4 cup of the water. Mix to combine.

The cheese and water should meld to form a nice, cheesy sauce. If it's too pasty add a bit more water - I think I ended up using 1/3 cup.

Ahh, just like Roma! Ok, let's not get carried away here. Just like...Little Italy. One point made in the show was about how incredibly important fresh, seasonal, high-quality ingredients are to Italian cooking. If something's not in season, it's simply not used. Pasta and cheese don't go out of season, obviously...but I think the reason many of the American recipes for this dish called for oil, butter, and salt is to make up for the possibility of lower quality ingredients being used. As long as you use good quality pasta (fresh if possible), and freshly grated cheese and cracked pepper you can't go wrong.


  1. I will make tonight!!! Yummy:)

  2. I watched this portion of No Reservations at least four times. I am looking forward to making this. Any thoughts on making the parmesan bowl?

  3. I didn't try to make the parmesan bowl, I have tried to make one before and it came out ok, but definitely not as crispy as the one on the show -

    On the show they made it by melting the cheese in a pan rather than the oven, so maybe that's the trick? It's not difficult to form the bowl, I'm just not sure about how to make it crispy.


  5. About the fricos - these take practice! No oil required, but quick movements, asbestos (or disposable gloved) hands and a non-stick or lightly sprayed flat surface. A few years ago, Giada D. featured a caterer on her show who made mini parm shells filled with mac & cheese for hors d'oeuvres. I immediately saw the potential for a teen munchie food hit. I made the tiny parm cups over mini cupcake tins. I went one step further and made mini pasta (acini di pepe) for the filling. Start with minis, skip the oil and they'll taste better. Since Barilla now makes piccolini pastas, I'll probable do the parm shells over regular sized cupcake tins and use piccolinis. For a cheddar version, I've used aged Mimolette for the cups - parm texture, cheddar taste. Perfetto!

  6. hmm, fricos you say? thank you "anonymous" and Mom the Foodie - i'm going to have to try this!

  7. I just got back from Roma and was happy to watch this episode of No Reservations before my trip. I recreated Anthony's episode and I cannot put into words how delicious the cacio e pepe was at Roma Sparita Ristorante Pizzeria in Trastevere. I tried it at other restaurants in Roma and nothing comes close. I've subsequently made it at home a few times (twice today in fact) with fresh spaghetti from a specialty Italian store, imported Pecorino Romano Cheese, and freshly grated black pepper. No butter or oil is necessary. The real deal uses a lot of cheese and is incredibly flavorful, but I keep it light bc I eat it too often. The hot pasta water is a must to melt the cheese, and keep the whole mixture on low heat for a few minutes, and it's divine.

    The actual Parmesan bowl used in the restaurant is deeply flavorful, and may be too intense for some. I think the pasta can stand on its own just fine though. Enjoy!

  8. i agree...definitely no butter or oil. and thanks for sharing the name of the restaurant. i've only been to rome once but hope to go back soon and will definitely have to try the cacio e pepe there!