Cacio e Pepe Spaghetti (Cheese and Pepper). An ode to simplicity and Italian Cuisine. It is hard to understand how two ingredients can make such a great pasta.
Yes, you might be thinking: Isn’t formaggio the word for Cheese in Italian? The answer is yes.
Cacio is a synonym for il Formaggio: both words mean cheese in Italian; both can be used as the word cacio comes from the Latin word caseus, which is usually translated simply as cheese. Now you might be thinking of casein… and yes, you are right!
The Roman Cacio e Pepe a true Italian favorite
Nothing more and nothing less than cheese and black pepper, simplicity in a dish!
It is not by chance that it became such a staple of Italian Cuisine. Yes, you might say, yes, cheese, of course, who doesn’t like cheese, but it is quite an admirable skill to make such a glorious sauce out of only cheese and pepper.
The key here is a technique; in fact, to make a truly unique, creamy, and perfectly made Cacio e Pepe you need to know a few tricks. It is not difficult, but the importance is in the details.
You will make a perfect yet simple dish that will amaze all your family or guests from today.
I owe this dish to Rome’s recent visit, where we spent both Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I made it a couple of times and had it in real Roman Trattorias to ensure I hit the sweet spot and used the right pasta.
We liked the one from Trattoria Maccheroni
Of course, since we live in Italy, we have access to fresh pasta, so we tried it both with thick fresh Tonnarelli or dry pasta. The result is the same in terms of flavor. You will experience a change in the texture. Try to go for fresh thick Spagetthi or Dry Spaguetti Nº 7.
For measures, use 3.5 ounces (100 grams) pasta per person, half the quantity of cheese, and half a tablespoon of black pepper.
Wine Pairing for the Cacio e Pepe Spaghetti
by our Sommelier Ramón Barreiro @pejobarreiro
Is there anything better than eating with cheese? This spaghetti recipe is one of the simplest and also tastiest in the Italian cookbook—cheese and pepper, nothing more.
The spaghetti is then a vehicle for the cheese’s flavor, reinforced by the peppery and slightly spicy touch of the black pepper.
The pairing for this dish is relatively simple; of course, it means overcoming a slight obstacle, which is a prevalent conviction that cheeses are accompanied by red wines. Furthermore, with a few exceptions, it is a complete mistake.
The cheeses have acidic notes, fermentation flavors that remind us of nuts and spices, herbaceous and floral aromas, and sometimes citrus notes… Are you beginning to notice where these aromas and flavors lead us? To white wine!
Romano Pecorino is a relatively robust hard cheese, and pepper highlights its spicy flavors. These characteristics suggest that our white wine should have something to compensate well for the dish’s intense flavors.
I will offer three Wine Pairings
The first pairing is a regional option. A wine from Campania, and one of the most elegant white wines in Italy, a Fiano di Avenillo, a bottle of dry wine with body and roundness on the palate, which evolves very well over time and will undoubtedly add notes of florals and dried fruits that will harmonize perfectly with Cacio e Pepe.
The second pairing is an international option from the New World. A Chardonnay from Santa Barbara County, California. This area produces some fantastic Chardonnays, dry, complex, and without those tropical notes that often characterize other Chardonnays from the American wine regions. This is probably my favorite option for the Cacio e Pepe.
The third pairing is the surprising one, the unexpected one. Here I return to fortified wines, this time in the Manzanilla style. Fino is the driest and freshest style of fortified wines, and at first glance, it looks like an ordinary young white wine. Still, when tasting this wine, you can see its particularity, aging under a veil of yeasts, the “veil of flower,” which protects it from oxygen and gives its nutty and spicy well-defined flavors.
In this case, I recommend Manzanilla, which is made in the same style as the rest of the Finos de Jerez, with the difference of having a specific origin, the town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. An always fun exercise is to taste the three styles of Finos de Jerez:
- the Fino itself from Jerez
- the Manzanilla from Sanlúcar and
- the Fino from Puerto de Santa María.
This is how we playfully do the pairing for the delicious Cacio e Pepe. Chin Chin!
More Italian Inspiration?
If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #ourplantbasedworld on Instagram. Cheers!
Cacio e Pepe Spaghetti
- Start with the pepper, which must be strictly in grains. Collect the peppercorns in a mortar.
- Pound the peppercorns with the pestle. Do it vigorously and with a rotational rather than vertical motion. The pepper will be ready when it is reduced to a coarse powder. I like to leave some big pieces, so they explode in my mouth as I eat them, but just some.
- Transfer the crushed pepper to a big pan, which will contain all the pasta to finish cooking. Turn on the heat and let the pepper toast.
- In the meantime, bring a pot of water to a boil, add some coarse salt and add the spaghetti.
- After a couple of minutes of cooking the pasta, when the white foam, which is nothing more than starch, begins to emerge in the water, transfer a couple of spoons of boiling water from the pot into the pan pepper and let the pepper melt slightly.
- So, now is time for the pecorino: combine the pecorino in a glass bowl and add a little water at a time until you get a sort of consistent paste. We used 100% pecorino romano; those who do not like the too-strong flavor of pecorino will be able to break it up with ground Parmesan.
- What’s important here is that the Parmesan is also aged enough because it will tend to make the ball and spin when you go to stir the dish if it is too fresh.
- Two minutes before the end of cooking, drain the spaghetti and transfer them to the pan with the pepper and finish cooking the spaghetti by adding, if necessary, another ladle of boiling water.
- When the spaghetti is cooked al dente, remove the pan from the heat and cool for just about ten seconds. At this point, add the pecorino mixture and whisk, skipping the spaghetti and stirring them quickly. You will see that magically; a nice cream will form that will wrap your spaghetti evenly.
- At this point, you just have to serve the cheese and pepper on the plates, still hot and creamy, as well as a nice load of pepper.
- Italian – Dry – Fiano di Avenillo
- Californian – Dry – Chardonnay
- Spanish – Dry – Sherry