Cacio e Pepe, or "That Pepe Pasta" as I kept referring to it before I saw the name written down, literally means "cheese and pepper." This traditional dish originates from Rome and is popular due to its simplicity and savoriness. In case I may have forgotten in a week's time, this dish reminded me that Italian recipes turn out good with any old ingredients and they turn out phenomenal when made with A-list ingredients.
I was excited to find Maialino's Cacio e Pepe recipe in an archived Daily Candy article and headed to Whole Foods to pick up the few but necessary ingredients. I couldn't find tonnarelli pasta, so I substituted with spaghetti. I couldn't find the recommended Fulvi Pecorino Romano, so I used the pecorino the cheese man at Whole Foods told me was easy to grate. I purchased the extra virgin olive oil that was on sale rather than splurging for the greater good of the cacio e pepe. I didn't think twice about what type of peppercorns were flying out of my pepper grinder into the pan of hot and frugally-purchased olive oil. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I forgot all the rantings of my Maialino post regarding the importance of quality ingredients when simplicity is in the foreground of a recipe. I am being a little hard on my redo of this dish; it was delicious in its own right but fell flat when compared, via memory, to Maialino's perfectly-executed plate. Lesson learned. Maialino, for the second time, you've impressed me with your brilliance, and I'd like to pay homage to your ridiculously-delicious cacio e pepe by making it again with the right ingredients. Next time, I'll be visiting this cute and highly-rated Italian market in Chicago to get the necessities, and I'll report back with my findings. For those of you ready to make this dish the right way, check out the recipe below!
Maialino's Cacio e Pepe (Serves 4)
Recipe retrieved from Daily Candy and Courtesy of Chef Nick Anderer
* 1 lb. tonnarelli* or spaghettini
* 1 tsp. salt
* Coarsely ground black pepper
* 1 tbsp. olive oil
* 1 c. grated pecorino cheese, plus more to taste (Fulvi pecorino romano from Murrays’ Cheese suggested)
1. Bring salted water to a boil and drop in spaghettini. 2. While the pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. 3. Crack pepper into the oil to suit your palate. Anderer suggests roughly six or seven grinds per 4-ounce serving of pasta (a 1-pound bag would require four times that amount). 4. Once the cracked pepper begins to sizzle, add a small ladle of pasta water to the pan and remove from direct flame. 5. When pasta is cooked, strain, keeping a cup of pasta water in reserve. 6. Toss drained pasta in the pan and gradually mix in grated pecorino. 7. If pasta gets too sticky, slowly add pasta water to loosen the sauce.