- 1 tablespoon freshly and coarsely ground black pepper, plus more for garnish
- sea salt
- 1 pound fresh tonnarelli, dried spaghetti alla chitarra or spaghetti
- 3 cups freshly finely ground Pecorino Romano
Cacio e Pepe is a staple from Rome and it's a recipe I grew up with that never fails to amaze me with its simplicity and richness of flavor. All with only three ingredients!
Technique tip: My secret for the perfect cacio e pepe is a young Pecorino Romano rather than a drier, aged one. I use the finest grating setting possible — the punched holes of a box grater — to create a powdery flurry of cheese ideal for even melting. I boil the pasta in half the amount of water than I usually would for maximum starch content. Finally, I use heat to my advantage, mixing the cheese sauce and pasta over a very low heat as I toss the two together. All of these tricks conspire to guarantee each strand is bound in a creamy marriage with the Pecorino and black pepper sauce.
Swap option: If you don't like Pecorino, I suggest a mix of Parmesan and butter to create a very creamy and delicious sauce.
Special equipment: Peppercorn grinder and whisk.
Fill a large pot halfway with water (I use less water for cooking pasta for cacio e pepe than I would for other pastas, so the pasta cooking water is more concentrated with starch). Ignite the flame and bring to a boil over high heat.2.
Separately, heat the ground pepper in a large skillet over low heat, swirling to lightly toast it and bring out its gorgeous aroma, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat.3.
When the water has reached a rolling boil, season with salt until the water tastes like a seasoned soup, then add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is tender, 2 to 2½ minutes.4.
In a bowl, combine the Pecorino Romano and a ladle (about 1/2 cup) of pasta water (aka the tears of the gods) and stir passionately to make a luscious cream.5.
Add a ladle of pasta water into the pan with the pepper (about 1/2 cup) and swirl to infuse it with the pepper's spicy and smoky aromatics. Remove the pan from the heat.6.
Transfer the pasta directly into the pepper pan along with a splash of pasta water (about 1/4 cup). Pour in the Pecorino sauce and toss vigorously until the pasta is drenched in peppery sauce and the sauce is silky smooth. Add more pasta water, a spoonful at a time, if the sauce is clumpy, and stir until smooth.7.
Serve drizzled with any remaining sauce from the pan and garnish with more pepper.