Cacio e Pepe literally means “cheese and pepper.” I made this last night and it was drop-dead simple, but really really good. I followed a recipe from Geoffrey Zakarian in which you cook the pasta in very little water. When the water is absorbed you are left with a starchy sauce which forms the base of the dish. Also he toasts the coarsely ground black pepper to bring out more flavor. I departed a bit from his recipe by adding some red pepper flakes to the black pepper and toasting both together. It is important to use high-quality olive oil and cheese. Although the recipe says not to add water, I started with just enough water to cover the pasta and added more as the cooking went along and as I tasted the pasta for doneness. I still wound up with a nice creamy, starchy sauce and went from there.
8 ounces dry pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, linguine, etc.)
30 turns freshly ground black pepper, on the coarsest setting, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup Pecorino-Romano cheese, grated
2 tablespoons high-quality extra virgin olive oil
1. In a pan just wide enough to hold the pasta, spread the pasta in the pan and add enough water to cover it. Season the water with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. As the water is absorbed add a small amount more water and keep tasting the pasta to determine when it is al dente. There should be a nice creamy/starchy sauce.
2. Meanwhile, add the coarse black pepper and red pepper flakes to a separate small pan over medium heat. Toast a minute or two until fragrant.
3. Once the pasta is al dente and the pasta water has reduced so only a slight coating remains at the bottom of the pan, turn off the heat and add the toasted ground black pepper and Pecorino-Romano. Stir and toss vigorously until both ingredients are well incorporated into the pasta. Toss in the olive oil and season with salt.
4. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl and garnish with more black pepper, Pecorino-Romano and extra-virgin olive oil.