Cacio e Pepe is one of the most representative dishes of Italian food, along with Carbonara and Lasagne. What they all have in common is that they only need 3 ingredients. Yes, only 3. But the most important thing that they have in common is that you need to do them just right. Follow the instructions and use the right ingredients, otherwise you end up with a completely different dish or a hot mess.
I will talk more about Lasagne and Carbonara when I’ll post the recipes, for now let’s just talk about Cacio e Pepe.
About the Pecorino cheese
The name literally means cheese and pepper, which already indicates that there’s nothing more you need. Cacio e Pepe is a traditional dish from Lazio region, specifically the beautiful ancient city of Rome. For this reason, the main ingredient is Pecorino Romano, a sheep milk cheese made in this same region for centuries (but thankfully available worldwide nowadays). Pecorino is a salty cheese and it’s very hard and crumbly so it’s perfect to grate on top of pasta dishes.
I like to use only Pecorino cheese but if you prefer you can use 2/3 Pecorino cheese and 1/3 Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
About the Pasta
Pici are a traditional pasta from Tuscany, where I was born and raised. They are thick like Udon noodles but made with semolina, flour and water just like other pasta shapes. If you double the recipe, making it for 4 people, I suggest adding 1 egg yolk to the pasta dough, to make it stretchier.
Pici Cacio e Pepe is very common is Tuscany and it’s one of my favorite dish. Pici are so thick and rustic and coated with the delicious creamy cheese are just heavenly. Another great traditional Tuscan recipe with Pici pasta is Pici all’Aglione, a spicy garlic tomato sauce.
The traditional Roman recipe, however, is made with Tonnarelli pasta. Tonnarelli have a thickness halfway between Pici and Spaghetti. Although, the most common practice around Italy is to make Cacio e Pepe simply with Spaghetti pasta, but the thicker the better!
How to make authentic Cacio e Pepe
This dish is apparently very easy to make. The only ingredients are cheese, black pepper and pasta, what can go wrong? Actually many things can go wrong.
One of the biggest mistake people do (and with people I include myself as well) is to keep the pan on the heat after you added the cheese to the pasta. If you cook the cheese, it will separate so you’ll end up with watery pasta and a thick cheese paste glued to the pan.
Another consideration to make is about the salt. Pecorino cheese is quite salty so make sure you taste it and regulate the saltness of the pasta water accordingly. Or regulate the cheese intensity by mixing in Parmigiano cheese which is less salty.
Pici Cacio e Pepe
- 85 g 3 oz All Purpose Flour
- 85 g 3 oz Semolina Flour
- 40 g 1/3 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese grated
- Black Pepper ground
- Pink Peppercorns optional
- EV Olive Oil
Mix the two flours in a large bowl and drizzle a little bit of olive oil. Slowly add some water and start mixing with your hands, adding more water a little bit at a time until the dough starts coming together. After a few minutes of kneading, you should have a round soft ball, which is not crumbly nor sticky.
Cover the dough ball in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 15 minutes.
To make the Pici, roll the pasta dough and cut it into strips, then roll them with both your hands on the cutting board to get the thick pasta strings. Try to keep the same thickness on the whole lenght, to cook it uniformly.
In a large bowl, grate the Pecorino cheese and add the ground black pepper to taste (it should be quite a lot but not too much) and set aside.
Toss the Pici in a large pot of boiling salted water.
Slowly add half ladle of pasta water to the cheese while whisking energetically and add more water gradually if necessary until you get a smooth cream.
After 3-4 minutes, drain the pasta and add it to the bowl of cheese sauce. Mix well and serve immediately with freshly grated cheese and crushed pink peppercorns if you like.
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