Technique for Cacio e Pepe

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!

1Here 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).
2 While the pasta was cooking, I grated some pecorino romano cheese.3Here is the pasta, just after I had removed it from the boiling water, cooking in a tiny amount of water.
4 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  … 5 I forgot to mention that I had added 2 pepper corns to the saucepan, even as I was cooking the pasta.6 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.7 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).8 I sprinkled some of the grated pecorino and mixed it straight away into the pasta with the wooden fork.9 I sprinkled some more and used the fork to “whisk” the cheese into a melting sauce.10 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!11 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!12A final snapshot of what remained in the saucepan … creamy no?  What do you think?

About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
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23 Responses to Technique for Cacio e Pepe

  1. Excellent! This is a difficult pasta to make. Thanks, Jo. Now I have an idea of where I go wrong.

  2. Sandy Grushcow says:

    Looks great, Jo. It will be on the menu shortly. Sandy

    • Well … I hope you-know-who approves! I was responding to another reader just now and will cut-and-paste what I wrote to him re toasting the pepper before use. Toast the peppercorns before smashing them up and sprinkling over the pasta. The heat will release the aromatic oils etc and the fragrance is just gorgeous.

  3. Terri Barker says:

    I have been trying to perfect my cacio e pepe for ages and it is impossibly difficult. This however looks excellent. Risotto! Of course! (slaps forehead) Grazie mille.

    • I am so glad that you thought it was difficult too! A friend of mine uses the technique she learned from the late Felice of the Felice Trattoria in Testaccio but that includes a little bit of olive oil. And for cacio-e-pepe aficionados that is of course beyond the pale! Another good thing to do, which I didn’t mention in the post, is to toast the peppercorns before smashing them up and sprinkling over the pasta. The heat will release the aromatic oils etc and the fragrance is just gorgeous. Thank you for your appreciation!

  4. Great post, Jo! For me cacio e pepe usually works out fine, but this looks like an interesting technique to make it even more creamy. Have you ever tried it by mixing cooking water and pecorino seperately in a bowl until creamy, and then mixing that with pasta, off the heat?

    • Ciao Stefan, yes I have (but sssss don’t tell anyone!). Take a look at what this chef does with a cacio e pepe, it ain’t exactly “traditional” but such artistry!

      • Lot of ‘wrist action’ 🙂 Is this where you got the inspiration for your ‘risotto’ method?

      • There is actually a verb for it now, it’s called “risottare” … “risottare la pasta” … and when dealing with top quality pasta brands, this is what the cooks do. It’s because this draws out more starches from the pasta and blends better with the sauce etc. I say it is all well and good when you are dealing with pasta for two … or one (as in a restaurant) … but when the quantities are larger, wow, it gets to be heavy work for the poor wrist!!!

      • I think “risottare” was actually started by Davide Scabin, one of my favorite chefs (and a nice guy too, I chatted with him twice after eating at his restaurant). I haven’t tried it myself yet. He introduced me to ‘monograno’ pasta by Felicetti, which is so good you could even eat it without any sauce. I’ll have to take some home from Italy, as it’s not available here.

      • I love Felicetti pasta! (from near Trento). I also love: Gentile, Verrigni, Mancini, Benedetto Cavalieri and Martelli … for every day, let us say, I have moved on from De Cecco to Giuseppe Cocco. Lucky you to have eaten chez Scabin! I read about the technique in the book “Cuochi si diventa” by Allan Bay (pg 122 “La Cottura della Pasta a Risotto”), Feltrinelli 2003.

      • DeCecco, Barilla and DelVerde are the most ‘premium’ available around here. That’s why I’ll have to stock up when in Italy. I don’t want to bother Kees with going to separate stores for each separate item during our vacation. Is there any ‘ipermercato’ that carries this kind of stuff?

      • Ciao Stefan … I’m not a great impermercato goer so unfortunately I can’t be of help. You might have to go to EATALY for some of this stuff … on the other hand, I am sure they all have websites. Who knows, they might be able to ship the stuff?

      • Shipping from Italy is usually ridiculously expensive unfortunately. I’ve seen Eataly but I’ve never been inside one. For some reason the name put me off 😉 If it is actually a store you’d recommend, I’ll have to visit it for sure.
        Also, we’ll be actually be passing by Rome in early July so if there is any store nearby you that you recommend, we’ll go there. We should probably pay you a visit as well 🙂 (I’m still not sure whether I’ll be able to visit Rome later in July as I mentioned in an e-mail previously.)

      • Will reply via email Stefan … 🙂

  5. Pingback: Technique for Cacio e Pepe | Le Marche and Food...

  6. Sandy says:

    Now that I’ve read your secret, I’m going to try this again. Finger’s crossed that it works.

  7. Pingback: Technique for Cacio e Pepe | La Cucina Italiana...

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  10. What a clever technique! I do something similar, boiling the pasta in abundant water until almost done, then transferring it along with a couple of ladlefuls of water to a skillet and (blasphemy!) a nut of butter, then I proceed exactly as you do. This looks like a more straightforward approach to the same problem. Will have to try it next time I make cacio e pepe, which will be very soon, since we never go for very long without a plate of cacio e pepe at our house!

    • Do you know Frank … I have made cacio e pepe, a bit of curdling and all, e non muore nessuno, dai! But it’s fun to play around with techniques, it keeps the child within us happy! My cousin also told me to place a bayleaf in the water …

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