Friday, November 4, 2011

Cacio e Pepe

Nothing can get simpler than this. Cacio e Pepe translates to cheese and pepper in Italian because those are all the ingredients used to make this pasta dish. This is something everyone can make, its cheap and its quick, but it can still impress. Everyone's recipe and technique will differ on how to make this, but a few things are essential:

High quality dried spaghetti: Use a name brand spaghetti product. There are only four ingredients so we want the best of all of them. (I use De Cecco.)

Good hard Italian cheese: I used pecorino this time, but it is preferred that you mix parmigiano-reggiano (parmesan) cheese with pecorino. (Do not use the Kaft shake stuff here please. It says parmesan on the package, but it really isn't...)

Fresh cracked pepper: This is also important. Were making cheese and pepper pasta, so we want the pepper to be top notch. This is only achieved by grinding fresh black pepper. Pepper from the tin or the shaker will mar this dish I promise you.

Extra virgin olive oil: Make sure it says extra virgin and the oil has a dark green tone. "First pressed" e.v.o.o. is the most preferable here.

A lot of well-salted boiling water: I've said something about this before, but I will elaborate on why we need this for good pasta.

Why salt?
Salt water has a higher boiling point than regular water. This means that we can cook the pasta quicker, and the quicker the cooking time the better pasta will be. Italians have a saying that the water should be as salty as the Mediterranean. Since I've never been there, I picked up the rule of 1 tablespoon for every 1 quart.

Why so much water Dave?
People always ask me why I fill the largest pot in the kitchen with water for a pound of pasta. Yes it takes longer, but it makes a huge difference when you have the right amount of water to work with. When you slide the pasta into the water, the average temperature of the water drops. Meanwhile your pasta is sitting there soaking away in the water. This leads to a gluey film of starch on the outside of the pasta. We do not want that. So, we use a lot of water because when we do slip the pasta in, the water temperature will not drop as far and we get a better result.

It's boiling?
When I say boiling this means we need a rolling boil after you have salted the water. (You should be able to hear the water boiling with the top on the pot.) Try and keep the water as hot as possible at all times when making pasta.

Cacio e Pepe:
1 lbs dried spaghetti
1 cup grated parmesan and pecorino cheeses mixed (Grate it using your finest grating edge. I use a microplane.)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Fresh pepper, to taste

1. Boil the pasta until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.
2. Drain pasta in colendar, do not rinse or remove water still on pasta.
3. Return pasta back to pot, add water, oil and pepper. Mix lightly then add cheese. Mix lightly again. (Do not stir here. Take pasta from the bottom and move it to the top and repeat.)
4. Plate the pasta and finish with more cheese and pepper.

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