This traditional pasta dish is dear to the Lazio region. With few ingredients that pack a lot of flavours, making it well is all about technique. Pasta, cheese, pepper. It looks easy, but those who have tried to make this dish at home often have difficulties. Too salty, a sticky texture and a poorly blended sauce are the most common problems for first-timers. But don’t despair. The best way to prepare a perfect cacio e pepe is to follow the traditional recipe to the letter, paying close attention to all the steps that transform a simple dish of pasta and cheese into a veritable masterpiece.
To prepare a good, creamy and flavorful cacio e pepe, the choice of cheese is fundamental. According to the traditional recipe, it needs to be pecorino romano (aka cacio). This aged sheep cheese has very ancient origins and has been produced and appreciated since Roman times. It was used as a condiment by nobles and as a long-lasting source of nutrition for legionnaire soldiers (they were allotted 1 oz per day to fortify their bread and farro soup). Rich in energy and easy to digest, it’s even better in the recipe that best exploits its potential.
Besides having a sharp flavor that embraces others, cacio turns into a velvety cream when mixed with hot water. To make sure not to get it wrong, use the same amount of water and pecorino, mixing them delicately in the same bowl where you’ll pour the al dente pasta you’ve just drained.
In order for cacio e pepe pasta to not be sticky, we have to make sure we drain the spaghetti (or even better the tonnarelli) when they are very al dente and then cook them in a pan for a little longer with the pepper broth and a bit of the pasta water itself. Once the pasta is cooked (it still needs to be al dente) we can carefully mix it in the bowl where we’ve prepared the cacio cream.
The traditional preparation calls for mixing cacio and water with the drained pasta, but if we haven't developed the right skills and movements we could spoil everything by letting clumps form.
Never heard of it? It’s a very simple step that will make your cacio e pepe intensely aromatic. To prepare it, crack some peppercorns with a knife and heat them in a pan with a ladle of water from the pasta pot for as long as the pasta needs to cook. Then pour the spaghetti or tonnarelli, which should be drained well before the recommended cooking time, into this peppered water.
Don’t waste time before digging in
One of the strong suits of cacio e pepe is the creaminess of the cheese as it melts and blends with the pasta. If you let it rest or cool, the soft cream will become a sticky mixture that will trap the pasta. So prepare it only when you can eat it immediately. After all, it is so good that you won’t be able to keep from devouring it on the spot.
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