Thursday, March 18, 2010

Linguini Fini Cacio e pepe

Would you believe me if I told you that you can make something amazing from pasta, cheese, black pepper, butter, olive oil, salt, and water? You can. Linguini or spaghetti with cacio e pepe is wonderfully incredible when made with high quality ingredients and cooked perfectly. Sounds ridiculously simple, doesn't it? It is. Better yet, it is absolutely delicious, especially if you learn the secret to no clumps in cacio e pepe.

The first time I made this dish, my dinner guest was sufficiently confused when he saw pasta boiling in a pot of water and no sauce being made. Later, when I served the dish, he nervously asked, "So what is this... linguini with butter?" Then he took the first bite. And another. Then somewhere between bites I kept hearing, "Wow. Wow, this is really good." Success!

I've never been happier eating a bowl of linguini (or spaghetti). It is perfect for a quick, delicious, and unfussy dinner. I use pecorino, a salty, tangy aged sheep's milk cheese, and lots of freshly ground pepper in this ultra minimalist recipe.

After many trials, I finally found the best way to keep the cheese from clumping in cacio e pepe. In a large heavy bottomed pan, heat the olive oil and butter, add the reserved pasta water to the pan on high heat (stand back), then add the pasta, toss, season very liberally with freshly ground black pepper, and quickly add in the grated cheese, distributing evenly over the top. As you stir, the cheese will melt and combine with hot oil and water. Trust me, armed with this secret trick, you will not have any cheesy clumps!

Update: After spending some time in Rome, I learned that the traditional way to make this cacio e pepe is with bucatini, a thick spaghetti like pasta that is hollowed out. Worth finding, but the dish is just as heavenly with spaghetti or linguini fini.
Image from F&W

Linguini Fini Cacio e pepe (Adapted from Mario Batali)

1/2 lb linguini fini (or spaghetti)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup pecorino romano cheese plus more for serving, finely grated
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper

Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add 2 tbsp salt and add pasta. Cook linguini fini until just before al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil on high heat and add butter. Once the butter has melted, add 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water and stand back- it will splatter! Add the pasta and toss to coat well. Add freshly ground pepper and stir in the grated pecorino. Don't grate in the cheese, have it already grated before adding. Toss for 1 minute. Pecorino is super salty so it is not necessary to add salt but if you do, flaky salt works well.

Divide the pasta among the plates, sprinkling extra cheese on top and a quick grind of freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

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