When teaching this recipe, I tell my students that if they can master this dish, they are well on their way to becoming pasta experts. It may seem like a simple dish to prepare, but precise timing and attention to detail are essential to its success. Having eaten hundreds of versions of this Roman classic in restaurants and in the homes of friends, I finally came up with a method that guarantees a perfect Cacio e Pepe. Use artisanal pasta; the strongest, most pungent pecorino you can find (my favorite is Sini Fulvi, a Roman producer), and sea salt and Tellicherry black peppercorns crushed in a mortar with a pestle. Have the ingredients measured, prepped, and ready to go from the skillet to warm bowls.
q.b. coarse sea salt
1 pound (453 g) durum wheat semolina spaghetti
2 cups (120 g) grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon crushed Tellicherry black peppercorns, plus more if needed
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Gently add the pasta, letting it soften and submerge itself in the water. Once the pasta is submerged, give it a stir so it doesn’t stick on the bottom. After 4 minutes, taste a strand of pasta for doneness. Continue to taste a strand until the spaghetti is almost al dente, about 10 minutes. Remove 2 cups (500 ml | 500 g) of the cooking water and reserve. (At this point, everyone should be seated at the table.)
Drain the pasta in a colander and return it to the pot. Immediately add a handful of the cheese to the warm spaghetti. Using tongs, gently lift and toss the spaghetti to coat it with the cheese as it melts. Turn the heat to medium-low, add about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and continue to mix, adding the cheese and a little more water as necessary until the spaghetti is evenly coated and creamy.
Sprinkle the pepper over the top and toss just until there are black flecks dotting the spaghetti. Taste and season with salt and pepper as necessary. Bring the pot directly to the table and serve immediately in warm pasta bowls with extra cheese and pepper on the side.
TO DRINK: A gutsy wine to stand up to the sharp pecorino, such as a Taurasi from Mastroberadrino or a red from Feudi di San Gregorio.
Copyright © 2017 by Rolando Beramendi and reprinted from Autentico: Cooking Italian the Authentic Way by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.
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