After visiting the Royal Winter Fair earlier this month (see previous blog post) and seeing all of the incredible cheeses that were produced in our area, I was in the mood for something decadently cheesy. And after a day of traveling to and from Toronto, I was looking for something that was simple and could be made with a minimum of effort.
Cacio e pepe.
What, exactly, is Cacio e pepe? It’s pretty much a blend of the perfect Italian comfort food and a grown up Kraft Dinner.
A simple tossing of pasta in olive oil, black pepper, and hard, salty cheese, Cacio e pepe is a rustic peasant food that is often used as a side dish. But, like our Kraft Dinner, it is also sometimes used as a main course when in a hurry (or, for student student budgets, when you can’t afford anything else). Unlike Kraft Dinner, it is made from real cheese, rather than edible oil products and glow in the dark powder.
I’m guilty of using some fairly expensive imported cheeses for this dish (I never claimed to be a local food “saint” you know), including Pecorino Romano or Percorino Toscano (Pecorino is a fancy word for hard sheep cheese). I recently tried it with Pecorino Medoro and also found it divine. But, really, you can use any hard salty cheese. Try Empire Cheese Parmesan or one of Fifth Town’s hard sheep cheeses. As a student, I used to make this with grocery store Parmesan — and it still tasted good. Due to its simplicity, this is a dish that can take heavy experimenting.
- 250g spaghetti
- a good splash of olive oil – say 3 tablespoons
- 2 teaspoons cracked fresh pepper
- 1-1/2 cups grated hard cheese
Cook spaghetti until al dente. Drain and reserve ¼ cup of the spaghetti water. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet. Add olive oil and remove from heat. Wait a minute or so and add the pasta. Toss well in order to coat. Sprinkle in the cracked pepper and half the cheese. Pour in half the water and toss again until well mixed. Add the other half of the cheese. If things get too clumped, you can add a bit more of the water.
Serve immediately, while still hot.
Like I said, this is a great side dish, but there is a guilty pleasure in serving up a big plate of it for dinner. You can feel slightly less guilty if you have a salad on the side.