Cacio e Pepe
1/2 pound dry pasta* (225 grams) I usually use bucatini or tonnarelli
2 ounces of finely grated Pecorino Romano‡ (56 grams), I prefer to use a microplane for this
Salt for the pasta water
Boil 3 liters of water with 10 grams of salt dissolved in it (3 quarts, and about 2 teaspoons of fine sea salt) in a large wide pot (this is much less than the amount of salt I usually use for pasta water, but the cheese will add lots of salt to the dish, and you'll be adding some of the pasta water, so it will balance). Add the pasta and start boiling it, stirring well at first to avoid clumping and making sure that everything is submerged.
Meanwhile in a large skillet toast most of your pepper (reserve a few pinches for garnish) over medium heat until fragrant, just about a minute. Make sure to stir so that you don't burn it. Then add a ladle of the pasta cooking water to stop the toasting and turn off the heat.
When the pasta is half-cooked (you can use the directions on the package, cook for half the time), transfer it with tongs to the skillet. Turn the burner back in to medium and cook, stirring often. Add a splash of pasta water if it begins to dry out.
Add a bit of pasta water from the pot to your grated pecorino and stir well to make a paste.
Once the pasta is cooked to your liking (I prefer al dente), remove the pan from the heat, stir the pasta well for half a minute to evenly distribute the heat, then add the pecorino paste and stir well to form a smooth sauce that evenly coats all of the pasta.
Serve in warm bowls and garnish with the reserved pepper. This dish does not keep so please eat it right away; thankfully it is quick and easy to make!
* make sure to get a great quality pasta, the slow extrusion and drying creates a rough surface that the sauce will adhere to. If you use regular pasta it will not coat as readily.
‡ same goes for the pecorino. Domestic ones do not form as creamy of a sauce for some reason. If you like a bit less salt and tang you can use Pecorino Sardo from Sardinia, which is also one of my favorite cheeses for pesto.
Variations & Ideas:
• If you're staying gluten-free I'm sad to report that I've yet to find a pasta that works great for this dish. However, you can make slow-scrambled eggs with pecorino and Sarawak pepper to make a dish that I find just as satisfying. Or try mashed potatoes!
• As I mentioned above, the dish doesn't really reheat well. But I've had good results, in the event of leftovers, by chopping the pasta up a bit and heating in a skillet with some olive oil, chopped garlic, onion, and fatty meat. Once everything is cooked through I crack an egg or two in there and scramble for an easy breakfast.
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