Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cacio e Pepe

I feel like I've been a little remiss in my posting.  Eep!  It's been a busy few days, and I promise I've got some good stuff comin' at you.  Like apple hand pies.  Chyeah.

I went up to Columbia for the Vandy game.  It was unreal being back in Williams-Brice Stadium again.  I realize I was just there last year for the Alabama game, but it was a different feeling knowing I'd be able to see more than one game this season!

But today is about the dinner I made for my grandmother's birthday last Tuesday.  Better late than never right?  P.S. Does anyone else hate it when a person uses "then" instead of "than"???  It belongs in the same category of grammar pet peeves as to, too, two and there, they're, their.  This...has absolutely nothing to do with food.  Y'know what does?  Cacio e pepe.  Cheese and pepper.

This spaghetti dish is so simple.  Like I don't think you can get any simpler than this.  I don't even really need to show step-by-step photos.  But I will.  It's ready in about 15 minutes, which makes it perfect for a weeknight or impromptu dinner guests.

The prep work consists of grating your cheese and cracking your pepper.  This dish gets its spice from a buttload of cracked black pepper.  That's a legit culinary measurement right there.  I used pecorino romano and parmesan for my cheeses.  You can use one or both.

Boil the water for the pasta and drop the spaghetti when it reaches a rolling boil.  You should give the water a healthy dose of salt to season the pasta.  You want to cook it until just al dente.  Before you drain the pasta, reserve a cup of the starchy pasta water.

When the pasta is about halfway done, start heating some olive oil over medium heat in a large pan.  You want it to be big enough to hold the pasta later.

When the oil is shimmering, add the pepper.  Let it cook until you start to smell that peppery fragrance, about 1-2 minutes.

Ladle in 3/4 of the reserved pasta water.  Be careful though because when hot oil and water meet, splattering happens.  It'll bubble a bit, and you want it to boil.

Add the pasta to the skillet and toss with tongs.  See the pepper?

And of course my favorite part: the cheese.  Add 3/4 of each cheese.  Toss the cheese and pasta until the cheese gets melty and the sauce turns creamy.  Melty.  That's another precise culinary term.  You can add more pasta water to help the sauce get to the right consistency.

Told ya it was easy.  You can serve it straight from the pan with a sprinkle of leftover cheese and crack of extra pepper, or you can also transfer it to a platter like we did and serve it family-style.  Just as long as there's more cheese and pepper.

We served it with a salad and this delightful rosemary sea salt bread I found at Fresh Market.  Because what's a spaghetti dinner without more carbs?  You can see why I never considered the Atkins diet to be legit.  Why on God's green earth would you eliminate carbs?  They're so good!  So to thumb your nose at all the whack-a-doo fad diets out there, have a nicely portioned bowl of cacio e pepe with a reasonable portion of crusty herbed bread.  And a salad.  Because we all need something green.

Cacio e Pepe (serves 4-6)
Adapted from Saveur

1 lb. pasta, spaghetti or tonnarelli is preferable
Salt to taste
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp cracked black pepper, plus more for plating
1 c grated pecorino romano
3/4 c grated parmesan

  • Bring a pot of water to boil (6-qt is recommended).  Add the pasta and salt the water.  Cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.  Before draining the pasta, reserve a cup of pasta water.  Drain pasta.
  • About halfway through boiling the pasta, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 12" skillet.  When oil is shimmering, add pepper.  Cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
  • Ladle 3/4 cup of pasta water into the pan and bring to a boil.  Add pasta and toss with tongs.  Add 3/4 of each cheese and toss again with tongs until sauce becomes creamy, adding pasta water if necessary.
  • Transfer to plates or a warm platter and sprinkle with remaining cheese and fresh pepper upon serving.

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