Cacio e pepe … the pasta sauce that is made up of only three ingredients basically … is one of those tricky dicky recipes, whatever else people will tell you about it.
The ingredients MAY be easy peasy … pasta, pecorino and pepper … but but but. The combination somehow requires skill.
It’s nothing like the pasta burro e parmigiano that I wrote about in the last post. That really IS easy … the ingredients speak for themselves and it would be quite difficult to get the recipe wrong.
Cacio e pepe on the other hand is deceptively easy. It pretends to be pasta burro e parmigiano but actualy ogles at you, while you are cooking it, as if to say, “So … you think you know how make this dish?”. Most off putting. The trouble is that it can easily curdle just before you are about to serve it. It will still taste good, no doubt, but who wants curdled pasta sauce? Why do you think I go to so much trouble with freezing the egg yolks for my carbonara for a few minutes? Same reason … curdling.
Well the freezing trick doesn’t apply to cacio e pepe. I spent the better part of a morning googling about and hunting after various reliable ways of executing this recipe…. and today’s post is the result.
I opted for the technique of using very little cooking water to boil the pasta for 5 minutes, after which I drained and transferred the pasta to a saucepan and continued to cook it as if it were a risotto, adding ladles of the simmering cooking water by and by. The ‘science’ or pseudo-science behind this ‘trick’ is that the pasta will release a lot of its farinaceous or starchy components into a relatively small amount of water … and the end result will thus be creamier.
Did I tell you that I dropped out of Chemistry at school as soon as I could?
Even so, there is part of me that loves experimenting and having fun … and that’s exactly what I set out to do. Follow me and tell me what you think!
Here is a pan full of simmering water to which a good pinch of salt had been added. I cooked the pasta in the boiling water for 5 minutes and then removed the pasta (but kept the cooking water).
While the pasta was cooking, I grated some pecorino romano cheese.Here is the pasta, just after I had removed it from the boiling water, cooking in a tiny amount of water.
As the water got absorbed by the pasta, by and by, I also added more cooking water by the ladleful, by and by. This particular kind of pasta requires 12 minutes cooking time. So I suppose I kept cooking it until it was al dente, for about another 6 minutes … I forgot to mention that I had added 2 pepper corns to the saucepan, even as I was cooking the pasta. This is not a great photo but if you peer closely … you will see that the water has indeed “thickened” into a sauce! I tasted some and it was cooked “al dente”. I switched off the heat. I moved the saucepan away from the source of heat (I didn’t want the pasta to keep cooking … that might have spoilt its texture). I sprinkled some of the grated pecorino and mixed it straight away into the pasta with the wooden fork. I sprinkled some more and used the fork to “whisk” the cheese into a melting sauce. And melt it did (the cheese) WITHOUT curdling. Ta daaaa! Yeay! Success! Please contemplate this photo … it speaks volumes for ‘proper’ cacio e pepe end result. The pasta is totally glistening and coated with the sauce, and there is not even a hint of a curdling churlish cheese blob! On the plate … add a bit more pecorino and a good amount of pepper. It’s not called “cheese and pepper” sauce for nothing you know!A final snapshot of what remained in the saucepan … creamy no? What do you think?