Thursday, January 22, 2009
Cacio e Pepe
I'm not sure exactly what's changed, but I have been extra lazy in the kitchen these days. Most people hate coming home to the prospect of cooking dinner after a long day at work, but that's always been my favorite thing. The chopping and the stirring, even the whiz of the food processor help calm me, and knowing that I have no one to answer to but myself and my ideas helps me relax after a day of chasing others. Now that I'm home all day, I'm significantly less likely to get up and make a full meal. I've always worked best under pressure, and it seems that eliminating a deadline from the equation leaves me with nothing to release at the end of the day. Fortunately, I still have the urge to buy food, and since it still has the need to go bad if not used, I do end up cooking it eventually (hooray for limits and deadlines!).
One of those items threatening to spoil away due to my new found laziness was a package of fresh beet pasta from the farmers market. I'd spent quite some time thinking about how to make it, so much in fact that two packages had spoiled on me in the past. I considered making a pasta version of a beet salad, tossing in ingredients that I knew went well with beets and brought out certain positive characteristics in their flavor. But in the end I realized that I would only be covering up the subtlety of their flavor in this type of preparation if I paired them with the kind of ingredients that can usually be expected to stand up to their full flavor and texture. So instead I went with one of the simplest and most straightforward pasta dishes I know, cacio e pepe. Cacio e pepe is simply black pepper and cheese, with a little bit of salty pasta water to thin it out. Some people toss in some arugula or another type of green, which I always do for both texture and a little added color and flavor.
It worked out perfectly in the end, with the sweetness of the beets coming through slightly in the pasta, and contrasting really nicely with the saltiness of the cheese and the heat from the black pepper. The best part is that you get the same sensation and mouthfeel from this dish as you would from a cream and butter based dish, without sacrificing the flavor. Not to mention that the whole thing comes together in the time it takes to cook the pasta. You can even make it a one pot dish if you like, by reserving the pasta water after draining the noodles and returning it to the pot with the rest of the ingredients. I would recommend using a long noodle like spaghetti, linguine or fettucine for this kind of sauce. Here's the (very simple) recipe.
Pasta Cacio e Pepe
1/2 package dry pasta (fettucine, spaghetti, or linguine)
1/2 cup Peccorino Romano
1/2-3/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper (depending on how spicy you want it)
1 cup reserved pasta water
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups arugula
Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente and drain (remember to reserve a cup of pasta water). Return pasta pan or pot and immediately add olive oil, cheese, pepper and 1/4 cup of water. Stir until cheese begins to melt. Continue adding water until a light, creamy sauce is formed. Add arugula and toss until wilted. Serve immediately and top with black pepper and a sprinkle of cheese. Enjoy!