The ultimate comfort food: Cacio e Pepe

January is finally upon us, which means cold weather and long nights… Elliot shares his go-to comfort food recipe to see you through the winter months.

As the coldest months of the year begin to take hold, cheap, minimal effort comfort foods become invaluable for cash and time-strapped students.

Foodies may recognise this dish, which is currently making a resurgence – with good reason. Described by Bon Appétit as ‘a stripped-back mac and cheese’, this recipe hails from ancient Rome (alongside pasta alla gricia and carbonara). Cacio e Pepe is simple, with a mere 6 ingredients, and less than 15 minutes cook time, making it the perfect late-night snack! It’s also an excellent introduction to using just starchy pasta water for creamy sauces (which is cheaper, tastier, and far less cloying than cream-based sauces). As ever, I advise against using pre-grated cheese, since the added starch (which prevents cheese clumping inside the bag) stops it melting properly.

Allergens

Milk, gluten

Portions

2

Ingredients

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp freshly ground, coarse black pepper

Kosher salt

225g spaghetti

2 tbsp (15g) unsalted butter

55g Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

 

Prep

  1. Finely grate cheese, and set aside.
  2. Add olive oil to a medium-sized pan, pre-heating on low to medium-low (olive oil turns bitter when burned).
  3. Add 1 tsp black pepper to the hot oil, and cook until you hear sizzling, and the pepper is fragrant (if you smell bitterness, the pepper has burnt and you should discard and restart) – remove from heat immediately and set the pan aside.

Method

  1. In a large pan (different from the oil/pepper pan), add pasta, and just cover with water, along with a pinch of kosher salt. Heat over high, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. This method comes courtesy of Kenji-Lopez, and heavily concentrates the starchy water for far more effective sauces.
  2. Cook until pasta reaches al dente (1 minute less than package instructions) and immediately remove from heat.
  3. Immediately spoon 3 tbsp of the pasta water into the medium oil/pepper pan, and add 2 tbsp butter.
  4. Using a pair of tongs, transfer pasta to the medium, oiled pan (saving any remaining pasta water). Add cheese to pan, and place pan on the stove top, setting heat to low.
  5. Holding the pan handle in one hand, and fork in the other – shake and stir pan/pasta very vigorously. This melts the cheese, and most importantly, emulsifies the oils and starchy water (above link for method video).
  6. Continue until a creamy sauce has formed – add extra pasta water a tbsp at a time if too thick (i.e. if the melted cheese, oil, and water is too clumpy to resemble a creamy sauce). Remove from heat, season to taste with kosher salt, and dish immediately.
  7. Serve pasta with an extra drizzle of olive oil, and some more fresh grated cheese, to taste.

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