Cacio e pepe, this heavenly dish consisting only of pasta, pecorino and black pepper (and a little cooking water from the pasta) has always seemed so daunting to make. I have enjoyed it cooked to perfection in Rome (it’s a Roman dish) but I never thought I could recreate it at home. But then I read Felicity Cloake’s article about the perfect cacio e pepe and decided to have a go as she made it seem so easy. And it turns out, with her guidance, it actually was!
The receipt is perfect. I didn’t change a thing and it worked perfectly the first time. If you’re a cacio e pepe novice like I was I highly recommend reading the article beforehand just to understand the elements of the dish better. And I can’t stress enough how important the quality of the ingredients are; buy some good dried pasta (I love de Cecco) and some really nice pecorino ( I got mine from Natoora) and your finished dish will be just as nice as the one you had in Rome on your holiday.
Cacio e pepe, serves 2
Adapted from Felicity Cloake’s recipe.
2 tsp black peppercorns
200 g spaghetti
80 g pecorino romano, at room temperature, finely grated
Toast the peppercorns in a very hot, dry pan then roughly crush with a pestle and mortar.
Bring a wide shallow pan of well-salted water to the boil, then add the pasta; it should be covered but not by much. Stir occasionally during cooking and, five minutes into the cooking time, scoop out 250 ml water into a wide bowl to allow it to cool slightly.
Drain the pasta and leave it to cool for a minute. Meanwhile, put the cheese and most of the pepper in a large, heavy bowl or pan and beat in some of the pasta water very gradually to make first a paste, and then a sauce the consistency of bechamel. Add the pasta and toss furiously while adding enough of the water to make a sauce that coats each strand of spaghetti.
Divide between warm bowls, sprinkle over a little more pepper, and serve immediately.
This is my attempt to recreate one of those amazing food memories I have stored in my head.
My friend Caroline and I were in Bologna last year and although we couldn’t secure a reservation at Osteria Franscescana in nearby Modena, we still decided to visit for the day. We went to Massimo Bottura’s much more unassuming restaurant Franceschetta 58 for lunch and tucked into the small but perfectly assembled lunch buffet. And that’s where I had one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten; their orrechiette with salsiccia. It was utterly heavenly and what I tried to create at home one day, with my last precious salsiccia from the same trip (stored in the freezer of course).
I must add that the very authentic salsiccia help make my version of the dish very good, so go to a good Italian shop to buy those. Without proper salsiccia you needn’t bother with this dish at all.
Orrechiette with salsiccia, serves 3-4
4 portions orrechiette, cooked according to the instructions on the packet
3 salsiccia sausages
ca 3 tbsp soffritto made using the same amount of onions, carrots and celery (I make a big batch and freeze it in portions)
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 tin (400 g) chopped tomatoes or passata + half the tin filled with water
1 tbsp tomato puré
100 ml red wine
1 tsp fennel seeds
salt and black pepper
a pinch of sugar if needed
mild olive oil for frying
Heat up the oil in a casserole dish. Remove the skin from the sausages and fry in the oil until golden brown. Remove the sausage meat from the casserole dish and add the soffritto and garlic. Fru on medium heat for a minute or two. Add tomatoes, water, tomato puré and wine. When the sauce has thickened a little, add the sausage meat and fennel seeds. Let the sauce reduce further. Season to taste with salt, pepper and some sugar (to balance the acidity) if needed. Mix into the drained orrechiette and serve with finely grated parmesan.
I’m a very seasonal person. Despite the mainly chilly weather at the moment I can’t face putting tights or warm jackets on. Because it is summer. Instead I layer up on my upper body but keep my legs bare (if I’m wearing a skirt or dress for work). I’m used to this approach but people in the office think I’m a little strange. Fair enough, I think.
But when it comes to food it’s harder. Sure, I incorporate as much asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, tomatoes and new potatoes into my diet as I possibly can, but instead of craving salads I still want warm filling food. So while this autumnal recipe of gnocchi with a lovely creamy butternut squash sauce with both cream and parmesan may suit the post-bikini season better it’s what I fancy eating right now. Until summer arrives. Then bring on the salads!
Gnocchi with creamy butternut sauce, serves 2
1/2 butternut squash
salt & pepper
approx 300 g gnocchi, cooked according to the instructions on the packet
50-100 ml single cream
finely grated parmesan
a few sprigs of thyme (sage works too!)
Peel the squash and remove the strings and seeds. Cut into even-sized pieces and place in a roasting tin. Drizzle with olive oil and season. Stir to coat all the pieces with oil. Place in the oven and roast until the pumpkin is soft, approx 35 mins in 200C.
Cook the gnocchi and keep it warm.
Purée the roasted squash with a stick blender. Add (cold) cream until you have a nice thick sauce. Season with salt, pepper and grated parmesan. Heat up the sauce in a non-stick saucepan while stirring, if needed. Pour the sauce over the gnocchi, top with more grated parmesan and some thyme leaves.
I snapped this picture as I was throwing this pasta together for lunch the next day, but I must say it exceeded my expectations so much I wish I had allowed myself time to take a nicer picture.
This is another dish where the sum is (much) greater than the individual parts; it’s just a simple dish that works. I love every bite of the slightly al dente pasta coated in fresh wild garlic pesto, the crunch from the raw thinly sliced baby courgettes, the bigger bits of tender-but-not-too-tender broccoli and the slightly melted pieces of tangy feta. I urge you to try it for your next picnic, barbecue or quick weekday supper.
Orzo pasta with wild garlic pesto, courgettes and feta, serves 2
200 ml orzo
2-3 tbsp wild garlic pesto
1 baby courgette, thinly sliced
4 stems tenderstem broccoli
100 g feta
a little olive oil if needed
salt & pepper
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Put the broccoli in boiling salted water and cook until a little tender but still al dente and cut each stem into four. Drain the pasta in a sieve and pour it back into the empty saucepan. Stir in the pesto and add a little olive oil if needed. Add the courgette slices and the broccoli. Mix together and season to taste. Add the crumbled feta and stir once more before serving.
I received evidence from my mother last week that the wild garlic season has started in Sweden, and therefore probably in the UK as well. Hurrah!
I love these oniony garlicky green leaves so much, I keep a bundle of blanched ones in the freezer at all times. It feels comforting that I can make wild garlic mayo all year round. Or wild garlic pesto. It’s fab with fried gnocchi (it gives them a bit more texture), fresh cherry tomatoes and plenty of grated parmesan.
Fried gnocchi with wild garlic pesto and cherry tomatoes, serves 2
1 batch gnocchi
1 batch wild garlic pesto
150 g cherry tomatoes
finely grated parmesan
Make the pesto and put it aside. Make the gnocchi and cook them. Then fry in butter until golden. Mix with plenty of the pesto. Cut the cherry the tomatoes in half and mix with the gnocchi. Season to taste. Add olive oil if you want a looser consistency. Top with plenty of grated parmesan.
Homemade gnocchi is easy to make and unlike when you make pasta you don’t need any machines or tools. Just a bowl, your hands and a fork. I also prefer home made gnocchi to the store bought ones as I find they go soggy faster (and in a different way).
For me, the best ways to serve gnocchi is either boiled with a simple sauce or for a bit more texture, fried with some pancetta and vegetables. During the winter months the sauce option is to prefer and this creamy Stilton sauce with spinach is just wonderful. Pure comfort.
Gnocchi with Stilton sauce and spinach, serves 2
Inspired by a dish at Carluccio’s in London.
1 batch gnocchi
200 ml cream
100 g Stilton
salt and white pepper
150-200 g fresh spinach
Make the gnocchi ready for the pan. Heat up the cream in a non-stick saucepan and add the cheese. Stir until the cheese has melted. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside. In a large sacuepan, add 1 cm water and bring to the boil. Add the spinach and put the lid on. Remove the lid after a minute and stir until the spinach have wilted. Drain from water in a sieve.
Add the gnocchi to boiling water in a large saucepan. When they float up to the surface remove with a slotted spoon. Heat up the sauce. Divide the gnocchi and spinach between two plates. Spoon over the sauce and serve.
Before I left for Sweden my mother emailed me and asked how many girolles I wanted when I got there. ‘How many is there?’, I asked. ‘I bought three kilos’, mother said. ‘Well, could I have one kilo, please?!’
A whole KILOGRAM of my favourite mushroom – I feel rich! But before I went home I needed to make space in the freezer for my treasure and used up the last of the girolles from last year making this gorgeous pasta.
Fettucine with browned butter, girolles, garlic, parsley and parmesan, serves 2
2 balls of De Cecco fettucine (my favourite dried pasta brand)
50 g salted butter
150 g girolles
1 small garlic clove
butter for frying
a bunch chopped parsley
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta al dente. Brown the butter in a large saucepan (it splatters a bit); put on medium heat until it smells nutty and the butter underneath the from has a nice brown colour. Remove from heat.
Fry the girolles in butter on medium heat. Add the chopped garlic towards the end. Season and scatter with parsley.
Drain the pasta and mix with a few tablespoons of the browned butter (avoid the sediment on the bottom) and mix in with the girolles. Adjust the seasoning and add more butter if you like. Scatter with grated parmesan and serve.