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Perfect Cacio e Pepe

April 2, 2015

I’ve made cacio e pepe before, I’ve even written about it here. And it’s been great, a basic Roman pasta with very few ingredients, easy to make and easier to eat. Then I read Mark Bittman’s piece on how to REALLY make this dish, and my whole world of pasta changed.

In his recipe, important components are a paste, made from the cheese and water, as well as the addition of the pasta water. But the real crux is the method – stirring the pasta vigorously to activate the starch. In all the years I’ve been making pasta, I’ve never heard of this process (perhaps it is a well kept secret), but now that I know, I will use it whenever appropriate. Once you try it, you’ll never look back.

picture from the new york times

picture from the new york times

In case the link doesn’t work, here’s the recipe, courtesy of Mr. Bittman and the NYT.

INGREDIENTS

  •  Salt
  • 1 ½ cups finely grated pecorino Romano, plus more for dusting completed dish
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, plus more for finishing the dish
  • ¾ pound tonnarelli or other long pasta like linguine or spaghetti
  •  Good olive oil

PREPARATION

  1. Put a pot of salted water on to boil. In a large bowl, combine the cheeses and black pepper; mash with just enough cold water to make a thick paste. Spread the paste evenly in the bowl.
  2. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta. The second before it is perfectly cooked (taste it frequently once it begins to soften), use tongs to quickly transfer it to the bowl, reserving a cup or so of the cooking water. Stir vigorously to coat the pasta, adding a teaspoon or two of olive oil and a bit of the pasta cooking water to thin the sauce if necessary. The sauce should cling to the pasta and be creamy but not watery.
  3. Plate and dust each dish with additional pecorino and pepper. Serve immediately.
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