Whenever I get to Rome, one of my first stops is at a small trattoria, Orso 80, steps away from the Piazza Navona, where I always order the same dish: cacio pepe, spaghetti with pecorino cheese and black pepper. One of the city’s classic pastas, it perfectly reflects the essence of Roman cooking: a few ingredients, carefully prepared, and served unadorned.
I’ve often prepared this dish at home with a modicum of success, but I’ve never really been able to achieve the texture of the sauce that I’ve enjoyed while abroad, where the cheese smoothly melts as it’s tossed with the pasta and forms something like a creamy emulsion with the pasta water and the pepper that seems to coat the spaghetti. Recently, however, I saw a New York City chef prepare his version of the dish on morning television and was amazed to see how closely he came to achieving this texture.
Later that day, I went to the show’s website, which had a video of the chef as well as his recipe. Interestingly, the recipe was for one serving. So, when I prepared it for two, I simply doubled the ingredients. As the pasta came together with the cheese, I was ecstatic; there it was: the cheese and pepper smoothly clinging to the spaghetti. But when we sat down and tasted it, the pepper was so strong and pungent that the dish was more like caciOWWWWWW! pepe.
I’m providing a link here to the recipe and video online, but should you decide to follow it, I advise using your own taste to determine the amount of pepper of you use.
10 quarts water
3 ounces linguine pasta, dried (85g)
2 teaspoons freshly ground coarse black pepper (10g or 30 turns from a pepper mill)
4 tablespoons Pecorino cheese, finely grated (60g)
1. Bring 10 quarts of water to a boil and season liberally with salt. Cook the pasta for 7 minutes.
2. While the pasta is cooking, toast the black pepper in oil in a large sauté pan until fragrant.
3. Ladle 4 ounces (two small ladles full) of pasta water to stop the cooking.
4. Keep the heat off until the pasta is done.
5. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the sauté pan.
6. Turn the heat on medium high and slowly sprinkle in the Pecorino.
7. Toss the pasta while you add the cheese to emulsify. Once all the cheese is added, adjust your sauce with some more pasta water so it’s not too thick. Serve immediately, top with some freshly grated cheese and a few cracks of pepper.
Wine Pairing: Frascati, Sauvignon Blanc