When I was little, I didn’t like spaghetti sauce. I’m not sure why. I do know I hated (and still am not a fan of) large chunks of tomato in my sauce, but for quite a while I wouldn’t do any sauce at all. Instead, I had spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese.
Now I love any kind of pasta with (meatless) tomato sauce. In fact, when I lived by myself after college I would make some sauce at the beginning of the week and just eat spaghetti with marinara/pomodoro/tomato sauce for dinner every night. But every once and a while, I still enjoy a bowl of spaghetti with butter and cheese. This is a slightly fancier version of that — and almost as easy to make.
You will need peppercorns. And you will need to toast them. I tried putting them in a kitchen towel and smashing them with a skillet, but that didn’t work, so I ground them up in a mini-blender instead. A mortar and pestle would also work. This is the only semi-annoying part of the recipe though, I promise.
It’s really best if you can grate your own cheese for this, but buying freshly grated is good, too. I wouldn’t recommend the stuff in a green shaker for this particular dish.
A note: You should save a bit of the cooking water, instead of dumping it all out like I did. You need it to mix everything together (but if you forget, you can use a little bit of hot water). And you may want to go a little easy on the pepper at first. I went slightly overboard.
Cacio e pepe (From Gourmet Italian special edition magazine)
2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 lb spaghetti (I tend to use an obscene amount of pasta, so I didn’t measure this part out)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
If you need to grate the cheese, use a box grater (not a microplane).
Put large pot of water on to boil. Toast the peppercorns in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat, swirling the skillet occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes — until peppercorns are fragrant and begin to jump. Coarsely crush the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or small blender.
Salt the boiling water and add the pasta. Cook pasta until al dente.
While pasta is cooking, fill a large glass or ceramic bowl with some hot water to warm bowl. Just before spaghetti is finished cooking, drain the water but don’t dry the bowl.
Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta but don’t shake off excess water. Add pasta to warm bowl.
Sprinkle 3/4 cup cheese and 2 tablespoons cooking water evenly over spaghetti and toss quickly. If pasta seems dry, add some additional water and toss.
Divide pasta between two bowls/plates, then sprinkle with pepper and a little extra cheese. Serve immediately.