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
- half the recommended amount of salt in the pasta water
- 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
- 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
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
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!
- Serve immediately