Cacio e pepe: what else?
Cacio e pepe, cheese and pepper is an institution of Rome.
It represents the popular soul of city that despite being majestic is also rich of hidden treasures.
Very popular throughout Italy, this dish is one of the most famous first courses, along with carbonara, gricia and amatriciana, but among the four it is the simplest one. About the preparation you need also less ingredients than the others.
There are dozens and dozens of versions, openly revisited or that are said to be the original, which can be found in the city… but the real Cacio e pepe only in Rome can be tried.
Cacio e pepe: a bit of history
The history of this dish, symbol of Romanity, is born among the pastures during transhumance. During the long movements of the flock, the shepherds of the Roman agro filled the bag with calories and long-term food. Among the dried tomatoes and the dried pork cheeks there were also a few slices of pecorino cheese, a bag of black peppercorns and a good quantity of dried spaghetti prepared by hand with water, salt and flour. These last three ingredients were chosen for a specific reason. The black pepper, in fact, directly stimulates the receptors of heat and helped the shepherds to protect themselves from the cold; the aged pecorino cheese is preserved for a long time and the pasta guaranteed the right amount of carbohydrates and calories.
From the Umbrian and Abruzzi countryside and pastures, in a few time it became a typical dish of Roman taverns and from here in the rest of Italy. Already in the 18th century the pasta seasoned simply with cheese was widespread in most of the Italy. Goethe, in his Journey to Italy, described the cuisine of Naples, mentioning: “macaroni are cooked mostly simply in pure water and it is grated on top of the cheese, which is used for a time of fat and seasoning”.
According to the tradition, the hosts of that time were careful to serve a cheese and pepper “dry” in order to promote business. The dish, in fact, had to “intorzare” (force), as the Romans said, so that customers needed wine to swallow the pasta: so… more Cacio e pepe they ate, more wine they drank.
Over the centuries the original recipe has been perfected. There are several variations, from the type of pasta, ranging from classic spaghetti, up to tonnarelli and rigatoni, to the method of preparation. Every tavern in Rome and surroundings, however, will assure you that its dish is the “real Cacio e Pepe“.
The secret of Cacio e pepe lies both in the ingredients and in the skill of the chef in preparing it. Essential for this typical dish of poor Roman cuisine is the creaming of the ingredients to obtain the notorious cream.
The right balance between cheese and cooking water is anything but simple. In order to form a cream, using the amalgamated ingredients, it is necessary to add the right amount of cooking water alternating it with the pecorino cheese to obtain a good consistency.
Remember that the original recipe does not require the use of oil, butter, cream to make the cream.
Cacio e pepe: recipe
400 g spaghetti
200 g grated pecorino cheese
10 g black pepper
Preparing time 15 min
Cooking time 10 min
Cook the spaghetti in salted water and in the meantime put the pecorino romano and black pepper into a small glass or aluminum bowl.
Raise the pasta al dente (don’t drain it otherwise loses all the cooking water!)
Calculate at least 2 minutes before the end of cooking and pour into the bowl with the mixture of pecorino. Season well, adding two ladles of cooking water to make so that everything will mix well.
It is also possible to mix pecorino and black pepper in a large pan where the spaghetti will be drained. However, remember that they should NOT be cooked or stirred on the fire, but should be mixed “cold” with the boiling water.
Stir and serve immediately otherwise the pasta will be cold and the cheese will clot.
Enjoy your Cacio e Pepe!