Pasta, Caccio E Pepe

Pasta, Caccio E Pepe

I’m not a fan of eating large amounts of pasta on a regular basis. When in Italy, mostly in the north, I’m served pasta in quite modest amounts as a separate course before the main. Maybe it’s different down south, but I think this is the healthier way to enjoy a bit of pasta now and then.

If you think pasta with cheese and pepper doesn’t sound like anything to write home about, well, I’m happy to say that on this occasion you’d be wrong

One of the great features of Italian gastronomy is sophistication of technique within relative, sometimes great, simplicity of ingredients. This dish, from Rome’s Lazio region illustrates this perfectly.Jump to Recipe

I’ve seen recipes adding grated cheese and a bit of pepper to pasta. Really? No! Caccio e pepe is a marriage of cheese and pepper with very lightly salted pasta water turned creamy, velvety emulsion in gastronomic heaven. It’s not hard to make, but there’s a good bit of technique. Here’s what I’ve picked up during my forays through fair Italy

TUTORIAL SUMMARY OF THE TECHNIQUE

The pepper is just lightly crushed with a pestle, then delicately dry toasted in a pan to bring out its perfume

Pecorino is the cheese of choice, though you’ll get great results with Parmesan or any hard aged ewes’ or cow’s cheese. To the fairly salty cheese you’ll be adding a little of the “glutinous”, salty pasta water. This requires that you use

  1. half the recommended amount of salt in the pasta water
  2. half the recommended amount of water in order to obtain that glutinous consistency

First time I made this I used too little water for the pasta and ended up with a delicious, but slightly dry result. Thus, I took to keeping a small saucepan of simmering water nearby, ready to come to the rescue. I rarely need it nowadays, but it helps me feel secure

You’ll need two pans, a deeper pan to pre-boil the pasta, and a wide, open frying pan, large enough to hold all the pasta with room to toss where you’ll finish off the dish

The pepper is dry toasted in the frying pan at medium heat just until its aroma is released. Once the pasta water starts to look gloopy, add a ladleful to the black pepper.

A couple of minutes of lively bubbling and you’re ready to add this to half the cheese in a bowl, whisking vigorously to dissolve it into a thin cream, then add the remaining cheese while the mixture is still hot for a thicker cream

The pasta is only partially cooked in its original pan and finished off in the secondary shallow pan along with a ladleful or two of pasta water and the caccio-pepe emulsion until al dente and immersed in creamy, velvety nectar – the aroma of which words fail to describe

Have your table very close by and your guests ready to tuck in. This dish waits for no-one.

Ready? Here’s the recipe

Pasta, Caccio E Pepe

Pasta with cheese and black pepper from Italy's Lazio region. Two ingredients, one big dish
Prep Time15 mins
cheese grating time5 mins
Total Time20 mins
Course: any
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
Keyword: cheese, ova-lacto, pasta

Ingredients

  • 1/2 -3/4 pounds tornarelli, spaghetti or macaroni I always use wholemeal
  • 1 cup freshly grated pecorino or parmigiano or your favourite aged HARD cheese
  • 15 black peppercorns
  • salt

Instructions

grate the cheese

  • divide your grated cheese between two bowls

cook the pasta

  • follow the instructions on the packet using half the recommended amounts of salt and water
  • optionally boil some water in a small pan and have it simmering in case you run out of pasta water!
  • Cook the pasta till al dente but still a bit hard: you'll be stealing about 3-4 minutes from the recommended cooking time
    boiling pasta

prepare the pepper

  • while the pasta is cooking coarly crush the whole peppercorns in a mortar and pestle
  • when the pasta water starts to look gloopy put the crushed peppercorns in a dry large frying pan and toast on medium heat for a few seconds to just release the aromas
  • add a ladleful of pasta water to the pepper and cook on high heat for 2 minutes. This will release the pepper's aromatic oils into the water

emulsify the cheese, pepper and water

  • add the hot peppered water to half the cheese in a bowl, stirring vigiriusly to achieve a thin cream. While still hot add the relmaining cheese. If the resulting cream is too thick add spme more of the pasta water to achieve the consistency of thick double cream

finish the dish

  • transfer the pasta to the frying pan you used for the pepper along with a couple of ladle-fuls of pasta water
  • add the cheese-pepper emulsion in 3-4 stages, tossing the pasta contiuouslty. Add more pasta water to thin out if necessary and cook for 2-3 minutes until the pasta is cooked al dente and the emulsion is creamy and smooth. If if looks over sticky add a tiny bit more water, but careful!
    caccio e pepe sauce for pasta
  • Serve immediately
Paella A La Mexicana

Paella A La Mexicana

What’s A Paella, Anyway?

What makes a rice dish a paella? Paella is a rice dish from the Valencia – Alicante regions of Spain cooked in a wide shallow pan called a paella. The original Valencian recipe starts by sautéing chicken and rabbit … Luckily for vegetarians there are infinite varieties of authentic paellas using any mix of vegetables, including two of my favourites, artichokes and thistles

Here’s a quick guide. If you don’t care about the ins-and-outs of culinary history, authenticity or paella semantics skip to the recipe and come back later for a wee read

Arroz (rice) a la paella: the original name of the dish. Paella is made in a paella.

Paella is not yellow. It has saffron which is yellow, but this is used for flavour. Being expensive you might be tempted to omit this queen of spices. That’s fine. But please, please don’t stain your rice with that tartarazine-based paella colouring that Spaniards adore, but is only a food dye with no flavour and zero nutrition. Add turmeric when it’s aroma enhances your particular dish. But not just to make it yellow. Paella isn’t yellow. OK? 

Valencian Paellas use paprika as well as saffron. Originally unsmoked from the Murcia region, you’ll find plenty of modern paellas using the smoky La Vera paprika

Alicante paellas use salmorreta: dried sweet peppers (ñoras) are sautéd with garlic, tomato, parsley and salt then blended smooth. Salmorreta will colour your paella a rich rusty red with no hint of yellow.

Paella contains beans. Originally a type of butter-bean local to the region, nowadays you’ll see any mixture of white and green beans including haricot and broad beans Peas are OK too.

When to add the rice? Valencian paellas add the rice before the liquid coating it in oil to keep the grains separate. Alicantine paellas add the rice last. Though there is a difference in the outcome it’s a fine point. What matters is the rice.

Which rice? Paella is dry. Bomba rice from the Valencian Albuferra is the classic, being highly absorbent, but there are many other types which connoisseurs can distinguish in taste and texture. Any medium grain highly absorbent rice which holds its shape is good.

Socorrat:, the crunchy caramelized crust at the bottom of the pan is an essential of authentic paella. it requires two things: a shallow paella pan and not stirring the rice after adding the liquid. This applies to all paellas. Finally:.

A dash of lemon? There was a big hoo-ha a while back in Spanish Master-Chef. Like onions in tortilla (or, dare I mention Brexit?) the country was split down the middle on the subject. Admittedly lemon with rabbit and chicken isn’t to everyone’s taste. But vegetables love a bit of lemon. You can go a step further and pound garlic with black pepper in a mortar and pestle then add lemon juice and smother your paella all over with the resultant majado 

And now, here’s a recipe that respects principles while staying heroically unfettered by tedious rules: a long-grain rice paella with a smoked chipotle chilli – oregano salmorreta topped with avocado and a shallot-lime majado in the Alicante style A La Mexicana

Paella A La Mexicana

This is a Spanish paella in the Alicante style using Mexican ingredients
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican, spanish
Keyword: paella, rice, spicy
Servings: 4 people

Ingredients

  • long grain rice - such as Basmati use one handful per person plus one for the pot
  • salt to taste

Salmorreta

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic whole or halved
  • 1-2 chipotle chillies dry or in adobo sauce
  • 4 fresh tomatoes unpeeled and quartered

other condiments

  • 1 tsp dry oregano
  • 1 pinch saffron (optional) saffron strands benefit from soaking in a little hot water; powdered saffron can go straight onto the rice

vegetables

  • 2 carrots cubed
  • 1 stick celery very finely chopped
  • 2 medium sweet peppers (capsimums) your favourite colour
  • 1 tea-cup beans any, but pinto are very Mexican
  • 1 handful green beans sliced
  • 2 avocados sliced - allow 1/2 an avocado per serving

dressing

  • 8-10 whole black pepper corns pounded
  • 1 lime jiuced
  • 2-3 small shallots finely sliced
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander leaf chopped

Instructions

Marinate The Shallots

  • Immerse the finely sliced shallots in lime juice with a pinch of salt. Cover and set aside

Prepare The Salmorreta

  • Gently fry the onion, garlic, oregano and chipotle chillies with a good pinch of salt in a tablespoon of oil to just soften and lightly brown. Add the tomatoes (no need to peel) and oregano and fry for another minute or two
  • Put the the mixture into a blender goblet with a little water or vegetable stock and liquidize to smooth

Prepare The Rice - Vegetable Base

  • In a wide, shallow pan sauté the carrots, celery, green beans and peppers in a tablespoon of olive oil to lightly brown and soften
  • Add a cup of water or vegetable stock and cook, covered, until the vegetables are soft but still firm
  • Add the rice, cooked beans, tomato-chile salmorreta, saffron if you're using it, and water or more vegetable stock to cover rice by a good inch. Season with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook on a low flame without stirring or uncovering for 15 minutes
  • Test the rice - it should have no crunch in the centre. If it does give it another 5 minutes. Finally turn off the heat and allow the dish to rest, covered, for 5-10 minutes

Finish Off The "Majado" Dressing & Other Toppings

  • Pound a small clove of garlic with 5-8 peppercorns in a mortar and pestle. Add marinated shallots with all the lime juice
  • Slice the avocados length-ways and arrange over the now rested rice
  • Sprinkle over the lime dressing and chopped fresh coriander and garnish with lime wedges. Serve with a fresh crisp salad
Courgette And Feta Flan

Courgette And Feta Flan

There was a great looking recipe for a courgette and cheese loaf knocking about on Facebook. After some of my friends tried it I thought I’d have a go

Now, I get annoyed when some upstart chef takes a classic recipe, usually from culture they don’t understand, and gives us their take.  Jamie Oliver did this with Paella. However, the Spanish loved it. Good on you Jamie

However, since – as far as I’m aware – this is not a classic recipe from a village in a hidden mountain valley in the Italian Dolomites, here goes

I’ve used millet flour because it has a wonderfully low glycaemic index. And Feta because I just love it. And mustard and chilli just to liven things up

Courgette And Feta Flan

A light, fluffy protein dish for any season
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time35 mins
rest time15 mins
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Modern
Keyword: eggs, flan, ova-lacto, pie

Ingredients

  • 1 large courgette (zucchini) coarsely grated
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2-3 eggs
  • feta cheese to your taste crumbled
  • 2-3 tbsp yoghurt (or milk)
  • 1 tbsp light vinegar (optional) commended when using milk rather than yoghurt
  • 1-2 tbsp oilive oil
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 clove garlic chopped or crushed
  • 3-4 tbsp flour (I used milled millet for its low glycaemic index)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp mustard (I used fermented mustard and green mango Kasundi)
  • chilli flakes to taste

Crunchy Breadcrumb Base (optional)

  • 1 handful brreadcrumbs (I used dark rye)
  • olive oil for frying (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic (optional)

Instructions

Prepare the courgettes

  • Coarsely grate the courgette(s) by hand or using a mandolin or food processo
  • Add salt and massage with your hands for a few seconds
  • leave to rest for 15-20 minutes

Make the base (optional)

  • Dry toast or fry breadcrumbs in a frying pan with or without garlic until crisp. Set aside
  • Lightly oil or butter the bottom and sides of your flan tin and spread the bread-crumbs evenly over the base. Let some stick to the sides if they want to

Make the flan

  • soften the onions and garlic without browning in a little oil
  • using your hands or a sieve and a wooden spoon squeeze as much of the liquid out of the courgettes as you can
  • spearate the egg yolks and whites, making sure there is no yolk or fat of any kind in the egg whites (or they won't whip)
  • mix the drained courgettes with all the ingredients except the egg whites
  • Add a pinch of salt to the egg-whites and whisk the to soft peaks. Fold into the flan mixture with a large metal spoon or spatula
  • Spread over the breadcrumb base (if you;re using them) and bake at 180 degrees C for 30-35mins
  • Serve with a couple of nice crisp salads