Cacio e Pepe = Cheese and Pepper. That famous Roman dish, re-invented, Canadian style. Luscious. And only 3, 4, 5, ingredients! Just look at those wee pools of creamy deliciousness.
Anyhoo, I've always been crazy passionate about Italian food, from all the regions of The Boot. Especially after an epic, top to bottom, Italian adventure, a couple of years ago. The beauty, the history, the food!
Traditionally Cacio e pepe is Pecorino Romano, freshly ground black pepper, and olive oil, with pasta. The sauce is made using the pasta water to emulsify the cheese, pepper and olive oil into a creamy coating. Delicious simplicity.
So, what's a girl to do? I played, and I played. And then I played a little more, with spaghetti and spaghettoni, and old, or extra-old cheddar, black pepper and starchy pasta water. Nothing more, nothing less.
Ta Da! It works every damn time! No kidding. Every time!
I cut the cheddar into cubes - no grating allowed. Mortar and pestle up some peppy black pepper and throw the pasta into a big skillet of boiling, salted water, instead of a pot. I'm sure a pot would work, but I like 'the Italian way'. Cook until the pasta is j u s t al dente, drain, saving some pasta water.
Burner off! Put skillet, with drained pasta, back on the stove, sprinkle in a good little schwack of black pepper, and some splashes of pasta water. Throw in the cheddar cubes and stir and mix, slowly, easily, turning the spaghetti, mixing here, mixing there. Add some more pasta water, if needed, to get that magical merger of emulsification happening, creating a smooth, creamy sauce.
You don't want to mix, and melt, the cheese cubes completely. Best if you have a few ooey gooey, little, pockets of cheddar, hiding amongst that toothsome spaghetti, near the irresistible puddles of saucy pleasure.
That's it. Done! Serve, with a plunk or two of butter on top. This might not be the real Cacio e pepe, but it's damn delicious, eh?!
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Cheddar Cacio e Pepe ~ Serves 2 to 3
1/2 pound spaghetti or spaghettoni, or similar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Old or Extra-old Cheddar cheese, cubed
Butter, for serving
Bring salted water to boil, in large skillet, stirring occasionally, with a fork. Cook until spaghetti is just al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water. Not necessary to drain thoroughly.
Turn off the burner! Put skillet, with spaghetti back onto stove. Add a good schwack of pepper, and a splash of pasta water. Throw in the cheese cubes, and stir, gently, constantly, with a fork. Keep stirring, turning pasta and mixing, gently, and adding pasta water, if needed, until mixture softly emulsifies, and the pasta is coated with the creamy sauce.
Do not over mix, so that a few little melty bits of cheddar are visible, here and there. Season to taste with salt and more black pepper. Serve immediately topped with a few dobs of butter. Now, that's Amore, eh!?