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.
Since I moved to London five years ago I have developed my food skills a lot. I am a better cook and I think even more about food than I did before, which I actually thought was impossible.
And because I am older and also have adopted the British ways a little, I do what I can not to waste food.
I don’t rely on use-by-dates, I use my nose and eyes instead. I utilise the freezer a lot, and plan my meals according to what I have in my fridge that needs to be used up. In fact, I find it so satisfying to use up things I have at hand to create a nice meal, that I sometimes prefer that to trying new exciting recipes. It is hands on problem solving, and very gratifying.
This dish is all about using up leftovers but it is also a very tasty way of doing so.
Crispy gnocchi with lardons, rocket and pecorino, serves 1-2
1/2 batch left over gnocchi
100-125 g lardons, finely chopped
a decent knob of butter
1-2 handfuls rocket
grated pecorino for serving
Fry the lardons crispy on medium heat in a frying pan. Transfer to a plate and add the butter to the fat in the pan. Fry the gnocchi crispy on both sides and add the lardons back to the pan. Add the rocket and let it wilt. Season well. Plate and serve with grated pecorino.
On Sunday my visiting friend Carina helped me make pasta, and it was a lot easier to have someone helping me roll it out on the pasta machine.
We were both tired and wanted something satisfying but not heavy, so instead of a creamy mushroom sauce I opted for fried mushrooms with quite a lot of butter (instead of a sauce), garlic, parsley and truffle oil served with grated pecorino.
This is a very simple dish, yet absolutely delicious. This certainly proves (yet again) that good produce is all you need to make good food.
Homemade tagliatelle with mushrooms, garlic and parsley, serves 2-3
double batch pasta (made form 200 g flour and 2 eggs)
150 g fresh mini portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 handful mixed dried mushrooms (girolles, black trumpet and cepe), soaked in water and drained, kept whole
2-3 tbsp salted butter
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 handful parsley, chopped
salt, black pepper
Make the pasta and cut into tagliatelle. Scatter on a platter or tray with polenta so it can dry out a little without sticking together. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.
Melt half the butter in a frying pan and fry all the mushrooms on high heat. Add the garlic towards the end. Season and add the parsley. Keep warm.
Cook the pasta for 1-2 minutes. Drain and return to pan. Add the mushrooms. Melt the remaining butter and add that too along with a few drops of truffle oil. Mix well and plate. Serve with grated pecorino.