Much study has been done of the iconography in Italian art. Certainly Rome and the Vatican have some of the greatest works of anywhere in the world. We offer another perspective. I often write of the food traditions of Italy and how you can learn about people through those traditions. Italians are known for finding their niche, no matter how small, and perfecting it. You see it with silk and leather goods. You see it in the simplicity of dishes like “Tonnarelli cacio e pepe.” It is an obligatory item on menus in Roman restaurants and they all try to out-do each other making this wonderful and simple dish. If you have enough time, you can do your own taste testing and really begin to understand who does it well and who doesn’t. The great news is, if you are willing to invest in good pasta and really good cheese, you can recreate it at home over and over.
Cacio e Pepe
- Kosher salt
- 6 oz. pasta (such as egg tagliolini, tonarelli, or spaghetti)
- 3 Tbsp. unsalted cubed butter,
- 1 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
- 3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano cheese
- Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 5-qt. pot. Season well with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2-5 minutes before tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking water.
- Meanwhile, melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook, swirling pan, until toasted but not burned, about 1 minute.
- Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to skillet and bring to a low boil. Add pasta and remaining butter. Take off the heat and, working quickly, add pecorino romano cheese and parmigiano cheese, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted and the sauce coats the pasta. (Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry and add a little more fresh cracked pepper to taste.) Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve.