Traditional Roman pasta dish Cacio e Pepe is a comfort food, which is often the case with few-ingredient dishes, but it’s also one that has a touch of sophistication. The simple act of frying freshly ground pepper in olive oil to the height of its fragrance will make your kitchen smell like you’ve been up to something fancy. Unlike a desperation dinner of cold cereal or frozen pizza, you might even invite the neighbours to sit down and join you if they happened to drop by. Cacio e Pepe, however, is undoubtedly best enjoyed alone, in what might be your first moment of silence all day, with a glass of whatever red wine is lying around already open. Cook a little extra, as this, like any comfort food, begs for seconds. —the convivialist
1 fairly large portion
freshly ground black pepper, ideally with a mortar and pestle
finely grated salty cheese, such as Cacio di Roma, Gran Padano, Pecorino, etc., plus more for garnish
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add spaghetti.
Meanwhile, heat a heavy frying pan over medium flame and add olive oil. When
warm, add ground pepper and allow to fry lightly for 4-5 minutes. It will become fragrant. If the pepper is frying to violently, turn the heat down to low.
When the pasta is a bit more al dente than you would normally like it, pour a few tablespoons of the pasta water into the frying pan and turn the heat up to high. Swirl by grabbing the pan’s handle and jerking it towards you repeatedly, or use a spoon or tongs to stir around.
Remove the pasta from the water with tongs and place in the pan. Again, stir or jerk the pan to incorporate the fried pepper into the pasta. Continue to add pasta water from the pot, little by little and stir the pasta in the pan.
After about a minute, sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta, stirring quickly to incorporate. If it looks at all dry, add a bit more pasta water. (Don’t worry about adding a bit too much water, as it will cook off.) Keep stirring quickly. Once the cheese is melted and incorporated with an overall smooth texture, it’s time to remove the pan from the heat and plate.
Top with extra ground pepper if you’re really into spice, as well as a bit more grated cheese. Salt to taste.