By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
Cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) pasta is an iconic dish and belongs to the modern cuisine of Roma. The ingredients are very simple: grated roman pecorino, black pepper, and spaghetti.
According to legend, spaghetti with cacio e pepe was eaten centuries ago among shepherds who spent the spring and summer months in the grazing meadows of the Apennine Mountains that traverse the Italian peninsula. While keeping watch over their flocks, shepherds cooked with simple ingredients such as pasta and black pepper because they were easy to transport and were resistant to spoilage. These two ingredients were combined with the cheese (made from the milk of the sheep flocks) to create a delicious, rich dish.
To make a perfect creamy cacio e pepe, you need to know some tricks:
Don’t use salt in pasta water because Pecorino Romano is very salty.
Use black pepper corns.
Never allow the grated cheese to heat on the direct flame. You must melt it in a big bowl with 2 teaspoons of hot pasta water.
Make the cream while you’re cooking the pasta.
Never use Parmesan.
Use spaghetti! The principal pleasure of cacio e pepe is in the slurping up of slippery strands of saucy pasta!
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
2 tsp black peppercorns 8–10 oz (250 g) spaghetti 1 cup (100 g) Pecorino Romano at room temperature and finely grated
Toast the peppercorns in a very hot, dry pan until fragrant, then roughly crush them with a meat mallet.
Bring water to a boil in a big pan and add spaghetti. Scoop two tablespoons of pasta water and place it in a bowl. Add grated pecorino and whisk until creamy.
Drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the cheese bowl.
Add crushed black pepper and toss quickly.
Sprinkle the top with a bit more pepper and serve immediately.
Contessa Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigileno is a true Italian—born in Florence, Italy, from a long line of eccentric Italian aristocrats, she has traveled the world in search of adventure, romance, and magical, mouth-watering recipes. "Ippo" loves Italian history, especially as it relates to food. Author of There's a Beatle in My Soup, Curcuma e Zenzero (Ginger & Tumeric), 101 Perche Sulla Storia di Firenze (101 questions on Florence History), The Grimore, The Magic of the Moon, and Magic Herbs (all published by Newton Compton Publishers).