Friday, November 2, 2012

When In Rome: Cacio e Pepe (Cheese and Pepper)

I think I've mentioned this before, but there's a Murray's Cheese Bar in my local supermarket! One of my favorite cheese shops from Greenwich Village (which is where I lived during my college years) has a little outpost here in Denver and I've been eating a good deal of high-quality cheese over the past few weeks. Bulgarian Feta, Broncocci, Manchego, smoked Gouda, for example. Anyway, this week I picked up some Cacio de Roma and Pecorino Romano for Cacio e Pepe (literally cheese and pepper), a classic Roman dish. 
The pasta is tasty, its minimal ingredients are simple, and it's easy to make. You can prepare this dish in under 15 minutes. Cacio e Pepe is unpretentious, unambitious, but still entirely delicious. 
Making the ubiquitous Roman dish reminded me of Italy, which is where I vacationed in 2006 during a layover after visiting the Middle East. It was a lifetime ago- before marriage, before Otis, before Theo, and before Colorado... 
On that trip I walked and ate, and the walked some more. The city of Rome is really one of a kind.

I dined at cozy, dim-lit restaurants, but had my fare share of street food too. I ate amazing tiramisu, roasted chestnuts, wonderful bread and drank fabulous wine too. Of course I am a semolina junkie, so I consumed one bowl of pasta after the other. I mean, how could I not? But back to Cacio e Pepe...
The first time I had Cacio e Pepe it was served in a hollowed out Parmesan wheel. I wondered how the wheel was cleaned for re-use and the general sanitariness of it all, but after a bottle of red wine I didn't really care anymore. It was good, good, good. 
I found myself craving it last night after looking through my travel pictures. I had good quality pasta in my pantry, olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper, Pecorino Romano and Cacio de Roma, thanks to Murray's. Dinner was on. 
So here it is. I promise you that one bite of this will have you conjuring up images of the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, and the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica. It's a classic and when it's made right (with high quality ingredients) it's makes the perfect dinner. Bon Appetito!
Cheese and Pepper: Cacio e Pepe 
(Courtesy of Saveur Magazine, from Anya von Bremzen's "Eternal Pleasures," April 2010.)

Serves 4.
Kosher salt, to taste
1 lb. pasta, preferably tonnarelli or thin spaghetti (you could use vermicelli too)

4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste

1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano

3⁄4 cup finely grated Cacio de Roma (some recipes use Grana Padano or Parmesan)

 Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil. 
Add pasta; cook until al dente, 8–10 minutes; reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta.  
Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  
Add pepper;cook until fragrant, 1–2 minutes. 
Ladle 3⁄4 cup pasta water into skillet; bring to a boil. 
Using tongs, transfer pasta to skillet; spread it evenly. 
Sprinkle 3⁄4 cup each Pecorino Romano and Cacio de Roma over pasta; toss vigorously to 
combine until sauce is creamy and clings to the pasta without clumping, about 2 minutes, 
adding some pasta water if necessary. 
 Transfer to 4 plates and sprinkle with remaining Pecorino and more pepper.

Pairing Note: A medium-bodied Sangiovese, like the 2005 Brancaia Tre Toscana ($21), 
will complement this dish's peppery notes. — David Rosengarten
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  1. Replies
    1. It is! In a really-simple-not-too-fussy sort of way!

  2. Ooooh, I love this post! It's making me want to board an Alitalia plane right now!! I use a Bon Appetit recipe and Grana Padana, but I thinkI will try this too...gorgeous photos, as always. -Elisa

    1. Hi Elisa,
      Thanks for the comment and the compliment! Um, I also want to get on a plane...right this very moment :) I saw that Bon Appetit recipe-- and since I've still got some good pasta and cheese left, I think I might just have to make it! Have a great night!

  3. I need to do the same thing with my photos too. They are a mess! Your photos of Rome are absolutely stunning, as is this dish. There is nothing like fresh cracked peppercorns!

    1. Hi Kiersten! I really appreciate the compliment (especially coming from you!) I have finished most of my European travels, and I'm making my way through Vietnam and Cambodia...only 2,100 left to go from that journey :) It's a process. I've also promised myself that I will print some of them out. Everything is just sitting, in digital, on the hard drive. It will take a good bit of time. And yes, freshly cracked pepper makes this dish!

  4. What store in Denver has Murray's Cheese Bar? I need to know!

    1. Hi John! I tell you that I did backflips when I saw the Murray's logo in my local King Soopers. It's the one on Leetsdale, a little bit east of Colorado. There is also an extensive wine selection at that KS (perfect for cheese pairing)--so the store is probably zoned in Glendale. There are knowledgeable cheese mongers too (I think they leave around 7pm, but the cheese bar is still open for purchasing) and you can sample the cheese during the day. I was there last night doing a little pre-Thanksgiving shopping. I got Manchego, Smoked Gouda and some Muenster. A little slice of NYC right here in Denver. Happy Holidays!