My son, Hank, works at a really great Italian restaurant in Medford, New Jersey called ITA101. Chef-Owner Kevin Maher, after attending the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, went to Italy for a restaurant internship and wound up staying in the country for 14 years.
At ITA101 my favorite dish (and there are so many favorites!) is Chef Maher’s cacio e pepe. It’s an extremely simple, rustic dish with very few ingredients, but one that is hard to get right. Pepe in Italian means “pepper,” and cacio is a Roman dialect word for Pecorino Romano, which is a sharp, salty sheep’s milk cheese. There is no cream, butter, milk or anything like that involved in making the silky sauce for cacio e pepe. It’s made solely from the pasta cooking water, a little olive oil, and cheese.
If you’d like to see how Chef Kevin Maher makes his cacio e pepe, click here to see a video.
The recipe I’m sharing here is not Kevin’s. I don’t think he uses a recipe; he cooks with his head, hands and heart. But hopefully, my version of cacio e pepe isn’t too far off from his world-class version.
- 1 lb. spaghetti, preferably homemade or fresh (Chef Maher uses chitarra pasta, which is similar to tonnarelli.)
- Sea salt for cooking the pasta
- 1-2 Tbs. crushed black pepper, depending on how spicy you like your pasta
- 2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (Use only the best imported Pecorino Romano you can find – I like Pecorino Romano Fulvi from Caputo’s.)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Note: A lot of American recipes for cacio e pepe include butter – a very un-Roman ingredient, although it does make the “sauce” easier to make. For authentic cacio e pepe, skip the butter.
1. Cook the pasta until just al dente in salted water. Drain the pasta, reserving a cup or so of the hot cooking water.
2. In a skillet or saute pan large enough to hold the pasta, place 1 Tbs. of crushed pepper into the dry pan. Toast the pepper over medium-high heat until it becomes fragrant.
3. Add a half cup of the reserved water to the pan with the pepper. (Stand back, it will steam.)
4. Working quickly, toss the pasta with the pepper and water.
5. Sprinkle 1 cup of the cheese onto the pasta, along with a drizzle of the oil (about a tablespoon).
6. Toss and stir the pasta rapidly, adding a little more water if necessary. You want to create a sauce that coats the pasta, but isn’t watery or runny. Add a little more cheese, as necessary.
7. Place the pasta onto serving plates and top with more crushed pepper and more Pecorino Romano cheese.
FOR MORE RECIPES GO HERE
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.