Thursday, December 5, 2013

Cacio e Pepe

My favorite dish of all time is cacio e pepe, so I was thrilled to come across a blog post about it the other day. The post was about what people eat for dinner when they're alone and this man, a food blogger, wrote about how he eats cacio e pepe every night that his wife and kids aren't around. I was both soooo excited by this, but also kind of like, "hey - that's MY thing!" Other people do it too?! (Besides you, Isabel).

I might be slightly obsessed with this dish. I Google it. I ask other people how they make it. I read loads of recipes looking for just the right one. And I tend to make it every night that I'm alone, which is usually about once a week when Ryan is playing an away game. It's a little overboard, maybe. But I love it!

When I first started making it, I would cook the pasta, drain it and throw it in a bowl, and then slather it with olive oil, black pepper and grated Parmesan. Now, this version is delicious, let me tell you, but it's not exactly cacio e pepe. As Ryan pointed out once, it's just a bowl of plain pasta with cheese.

Well....that's kind of what cacio e pepe is. But any recipe you read will tell you that there is a science to making it, and I wanted to try that version too - why not, right? I have once a week to try it!

So I set out to make up my own perfect recipe for my own perfect cacio e pepe. Although, in the course of my research, I did read on another food blog, that the Romans would most likely laugh at us if they knew we were trying to use a recipe to make such a simple dish, which is probably correct.

And speaking of the Romans, Ryan and I ate this last year when we went on vacation to Rome. I really don't want to say what I'm going to say next, because I think it's illegal or something, but I like my version better. I have to say....I don't like Pecorino Romano, which is what cacio e pepe is usually made with. It's sooo salty. I love good old Parmesan OR its less expensive family member, Grana.

So one night when Ryan was in Asiago (speaking of cheese, haha), I went into the kitchen with my pen and paper to master my own recipe for my favorite dish. Turns out the Romans were right! It's impossible to write a recipe for Italy anyway. No one measures anything here! Three problems right off the bat:

1.  I was planning on using 1/4 pound of spaghetti and starting the recipe like that. But I don't know what 1/4 pound of pasta looks like; we have a spaghetti measure that has holes in it marking the correct portion for 1, 2, 3 and 4 people.

2. Our butter comes in a big block and doesn't have those incredibly helpful little markers that say "1 tbsp, 2 tbsp" etc.

3. I would rather NOT measure out a tablespoon of olive oil because it would mean that I would then have to hand-wash the tablespoon measure since we don't have a dishwasher and I hate washing things that have oil in them.

And so - the following is a very rough recipe to possibly follow the next time you are home alone and want to make cacio e pepe:

1/4 lb spaghetti
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
Lots of black pepper
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese (I DID measure this because I figured I didn't have to wash it out after and I just put it back on the shelf!)
Salt to taste

Boil a pot of salted water and cook the spaghetti according to directions, but trust me, it's better al dente, as the Italians do it.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and olive oil together in a saucepan and add in lots of black pepper - as much as you like pepper, really.

When the pasta is done cooking, reserve half a cup of the pasta water - this step is crucial, ANY correct recipe will tell you that - and drain the pasta.

Pour in a bit of the pasta water to the oil, butter and pepper mixture. I started with about 2 tablespoons - and give it a good whisk. Add the pasta to the saucepan and toss to coat. Add the cheese to the pasta mixture and toss together - and now you can add a little more pasta water, only if you think it needs it. Sprinkle on a little salt - I don't like much - and taste. Adjust cheese/pepper ratio as needed and there you have it! Heaven.