The Romans, man. They are a good people. They know how to live. And eat. And drink. They’ve brought us game changing inventions like aqueducts, concrete and newspapers. And, you know, numerals.
But my favorite Roman invention? Cacio e Pepe. Say it with me, CA-CHEE-O EH PEH-PEH. Hands up emoji. The simplest of the simple, ‘cacio e pepe’ literally translates to ‘cheese and pepper’. And that’s really all it is. Pasta blended with butter and cheese and pepper that results in a rich, flavorful, incredibly simple dish that I dare you not to love instantly.
Add a little summertime flair (it’s TOMATO SEASON, y’all) and you’ve got yourself a game changer of a meal. Thanks, Romans. Grazie mille.
You ready? OK, let’s do this.
Summertime Cacio e Pepe
6 ounces pasta (I used bucatini, but you could use spaghetti or linguini and achieve the same result)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan Reggiano
1/3 cup finely grated Pecorino
1 small container cherry tomatoes
3-4 leaves basil, chopped in a chiffonade
Kitchen Equipment: large heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, large pot, microplane or zester (for grating cheese), TONGS (I heart tongs)
I love this recipe. It’s so goddamn simple and the end product will just blow you away with incredible flavor. Like, how did so few ingredients pack such a wallop of awesome? Who knows? The Romans know, that’s who.
First things first, get your kitchen prepped so you have everything at your disposal when timing matters later. Using your microplane or zester, grate your cheese and set aside. By using this tool instead of a standard cheese grater, you are making it much easier for your cheese to become melty and saucy later, rather than the undesirable clumpy and oily, because you’re basically grating it in the smallest possible way. You’re making whispy cheese fluff, if you will. And I will. You can use a standard cheese grater if you don’t have a microplane (though I highly suggest you pick one up, it’s one of my favorite and most used kitchen tools), but make sure you use the smallest holes possible.
Wash and chop your tomatoes (if they’re small enough you can just cut them in half) and chiffonade the basil.
Next, take your big pot and fill it with about 3 quarts water and a good few shakes of sea salt (the best chefs will always tell you that pasta should be cooked in water that ‘tastes of the sea’…so salt it up, don’t be shy!). Heat on high until you achieve a rolling boil.
Add the pasta and cook about two minutes shy of the suggested cooking time (I would say about two to three minutes total cooking time for fresh pasta, about six minutes for dried). Don’t you fret, the pasta will finish cooking when we add it to the pan sauce later. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set aside.
Meanwhile, in your large skillet or sauté pan, melt two tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the pepper and swirl the pan around for about a minute to toast the pepper. Your butter should brown slightly but not burn.
Next, add the reserved pasta water and swirl the pan again to pick up all the nicely toasted pepper particles. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the liquid is bubbling nicely. Add the pasta and the rest of the butter.
Now. Here’s where the magic happens. Turn the heat down to low and using your tongs, toss your pasta in the pan sauce until evenly coated. Add the grated Grana Padano and toss quickly with the pasta using your tongs until the cheese melts into the pan sauce and starts to coat the pasta. This should take no more than 10-15 seconds.
Remove the pan from heat and add the grated Pecorino, tossing in a similar fashion as the Grana Padano. Really swirl the pasta around the pan to pick up all of the pepper and cheese sauce. If you’ve done it right, you should be left with a gorgeous, shiny cheese sauce that smoothly coats the pasta and is punctuated by lovely bits of toasted pepper.
Serve immediately in large bowls and top with the chopped tomatoes and basil.
The only accompaniment you need to this is a good glass of wine and a friend or loved one. And maybe a nice view and a summer breeze. But shouldn’t those accompany all of your summertime meals?
I think so. And the Romans do too.