What is Pasta Cacio e Pepe?
What ingredients are used to make pasta cacio e pepe? Just two and this Roman pasta is proof that, with the right technique, even the most seemingly humble products can produce something magical for your palate. Made with just pecorino romano cheese, locally called cacio, and freshly ground black pepper, pepe, this historic dish might seem simple but obtaining the right result is definitely not easy.
Pasta cacio e pepe is one of the four Roman pasta dishes and it is the only one made with just pecorino romano cheese and black pepper. Watch Foodie Sisters in Italy, Valeria and Benedetta, explain what this Roman pasta is and what it takes to make the perfect cacio e pepe.
Historically, the pastures and farmland around Rome were predominantly used to rear sheep and pigs, which helps to explain why so much of Roman cuisine is based around pecorino or sheep milk cheese and cured pork products. These small shepherd villages were self-sufficient, eating their own produce that were from the surrounding land, forming the roots of simplicity found in Roman cooking and its focus on local products.
Cacio e pepe was a dish which evolved from necessity; as they traveled with their flock, shepherds would bring along a ready supply of their own pecorino romano, a sheep milk cheese which was aged to increase its possible consumption time and which provided a nutritious snack thanks to its fat and calorie content. To this, they would add simple homemade pasta and black pepper for warmth, which then evolved into the common cacio e pepe dish we have today.
Ingredients and Preparation
For an excellent cacio e pepe, it is important to balance the ingredients. Good quality pecorino, which is creamy and has just the right amount of saltiness, is mixed with a seemingly excessive amount of freshly ground black pepper (it should be enough to give the dish a gray-ish tinge). A long, fresh egg pasta called tonnarelli is the order of the day in Rome but you can also use spaghetti for a similar result. Once the pasta is al dente it is mixed with the cheese and pepper along with a few ladlefuls of its own starchy water and stirred vigorously. This melts the cheese and forms a smooth, creamy sauce packed with pepper which clings to the length of the pasta.
The key to the dish is in the last moment when the ingredients are combined. It is important to avoid lumps which will make the dish sticky and unpleasant so it needs to be carefully executed. While most restaurants in Rome serve cacio e pepe, it can still be a bit hit and miss to find a great one, but when you find it we guarantee that it will make you swoon.
If you want to have one of the best pasta cacio e pepe in Rome, well actually eat all four Roman pastas in one meal, join our 4 Roman Pastas Tasting Tour in Rome.