If you were to watch an experienced cook make cacio e pepe, you might think it was as simple as cook spaghetti and drain. Toss with olive oil, butter, black pepper, and grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Serve. But the simplest recipes can often be the most challenging to get right, and so it is with cacio e pepe. Follow these instructions and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get what you’re after, a creamy, emulsified sauce that coats each strand of spaghetti with intense flavour. It might take a few tries to get it just right, but so worth the effort. Here’s how to make it perfectly every time.
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Coarsely grounded black pepper
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 pound spaghetti
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- Pecorino Romano cheese, about 1 cup, finely grated on a Micro-plane
- Heat 3 Tbps olive oil and about a Tsp of black pepper in a medium skillet over medium0low heat until ingredients are fragrant and pepper is barely starting to sizzle, about 1 minute. Set aside
- Place spaghetti in a large skillet and cover with water. Season with a pinch of salt, then bring to a boil over high heat, stirring spaghetti occasionally with a fork or wooden spoon to prevent it from clumping. Cook until spaghetti is al dente (typically about 1 minute less than the package recommends).
- Transfer 2 to 3 Tbsp of pasta cooking water to the skillet with the olive oil/pepper mixture. Stir in Butter.
- Using tongs, lift spaghetti and transfer it to the oil/butter mixture.
- Add cheese and remaining tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and stir with a fork until cheese is completely melted. Add a few more tablespoons of pasta water to the skillet to adjust consistency, reheating as necessary until the sauce is creamy and coats each strand of spaghetti.
- Season to taste with salt and more black pepper. Serve immediately, with extra grated cheese and black pepper.
WHY IT WORKS
Using toasted and fresh black pepper doubles up on flavour, giving the dish more complexity.
Grating the cheese very finely on a microplane instead of shredding it helps it incorporate more smoothly. Finishing the pasta and cheese in a separate skillet ensures that the cheese doesn’t clump up from the residual heat in the pasta pan. Cooking the pasta in a skillet instead of a pot helps concentrate the starch in the water, making the sauce smoother.