In the 90’s carbonara took these isles by storm, no faux-authentic Italian restaurant was worth its salt unless carbonara graced its menu. Now, in the ‘teens’ (I’ve gone for teens over tens, or twenty-tens because it seems a decade in which our lives are controlled by petulant, ego driven, selfish, children in power) cacio e pepe is quickly becoming the people’s pasta, with no influential food writer worth their Instagram followers if they haven’t made reference to cacio e pepe on one of their many social media channels.
Don’t be put off by the fancy sounding name, it simply translates as cheese and pepper and it isn’t fancy at all, and is as simple in preparation as it is in name. Its simplicity, rather than its current fashion status, is why I like it. Any dish that consists of just three ingredients and takes only 15 minutes to cook will always get my vote. Some will argue that authentic cacio e pepe should be made with pici or tonnarelli pasta, and that the cheese used should be pecorino. But because both are difficult to get hold of – good quality Pecorino especially – traditional spaghetti and parmesan or Grana Padano work just fine for the humble home cook.
Cooking time: 15 minutes
1tsp black peppercorns
70g parmesan/pecorino/grana padana
Bring 1.5ltr of salted water to the boil and add the pasta. Cook for about 8-10minutes until it retains just a little bite; stirring occasionally during this time to activate the starch in the pasta.
While the pasta is cooking crush the peppercorns in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar until they are roughly crushed. Finely grate the cheese and set aside.
1-2 minutes before the pasta is cooked add a tablespoon of olive oil or 20g butter to a saucepan, add the pepper and cook over a low heat until it starts to sizzle. Pour in 160ml of the pasta cooking water and cook until the water simmers. Drain the pasta, reserving the water, and then add to the pan. Take off the heat and stir in the cheese. You should have a creamy sauce that clings to the pasta; if it looks a little dry then add some of the reserved cooking water.
Printable version: Cacio e pepe