In addition to losing their collective minds about calcio, Romans take a few other things very seriously. Two of these things being their food and their history. Particularly the traditional preparation of said food. Cooking within the season, keeping it simple. They’re often just as tasty, yet sadly our calcio performances don’t seem to have the same success rate as the meals prepared in Roman homes and trattorie around the city post-match.
Much of the famous (and best) Roman dishes are very dependent on the season as previously mentioned, so to keep things at their most simple, I made one of the best – and easiest – Roman dishes around: cacio e pepe. The great thing about this dish is that it highlights what most non-Italians misunderstand about pasta – the carbohydrate is supposed to be the star of the dish, the sauce is there to compliment it. That is why the texture of the pasta and shape is so important (something I find myself explaining ad nauseam). Traditionally, cacio e pepe is made with a pasta such as vermicelli, which is a bit thicker than spaghetti, but spaghetti will do nicely in its stead.
The ‘pepe‘ part is pretty clear, but if you’re unsure of what ‘cacio‘ is (no, I didn’t forget to type the “L”), you may know it by its more familiar name ‘formaggio‘. Cacio derives from the Latin word for cheese: ‘caseus’. And just like the equally delicious and simple burro e salvia, that’s all there is to it. Cheese and pepper.
Because there are so few ingredients to this dish, being true to it is pretty important. You can buy domestic cheese (if in America, our version will likely use cow’s milk instead of sheep’s, thus tasting more mild), but it won’t have the same flavor; you can use pre-ground pepper, but it won’t have the delightful perfume of freshly ground pepper. There’s nowhere for lesser quality ingredients to hide in this dish so I genuinely suggest you don’t skimp, since there’s only 2 of them.
The cheese in question is the sharp and salty pecorino romano. This is truly one of Rome’s oldest and most traditional cheeses, being used by Romans so far back that it was a common part of the legionaries’ diet.
This dish is very Roma to me. Bold and sharp, smooth and fleeting. The heat from the pepper recalls the intensity of a flare-ridden Curva Sud; the saltiness of the cheese emulates the ever-present Roman temper; the silky creaminess evokes a delicious Totti pass, made with the outside of his foot, after he’s nutmegged a defender half his age. Whether it leads to a goal or not, you can’t help but think about it over and over, replaying its beauty in your head. After you’ve tasted quality cacio e pepe, you are changed.
Cacio e Pepe
Difficulty: Ridiculously easy
Price: $8 to $15 for a piece of good imported pecorino romano;
$1 – $1.50 for a box of spaghetti;
don’t make me tell you how much black pepper costs
Time: 10-12 minutes
1. Play Antonello Venditti’s ‘Roma Roma Roma’ in your kitchen with yellow counters and wine red walls. That last bit may be exclusive to me.
2. All the prep for this dish can be done while waiting for the water to boil, or if you feel like taking your sweet time, also while the pasta is cooking. Put up a few quarts of water up to boil and in the meantime grate the cheese. If you are uncertain of the speed of your pepper grinding skills, you can start grinding some pepper in advance after you put the pasta in the water. The longer you wait, the better, so you don’t lose the aromatic features of freshly grinding.
3. When the water comes to a rolling boil, salt the water. My recommendation is to under-salt the water. The cheese is salty and you will also be cooking the pasta again to absorb some of the salted pasta water. Also, under-cook the pasta. Turn down the burner a little (medium/medium-high, depending on your stove) and remove the pasta from the burner about 2 to 3 minutes prior to the desired al dente state. Remember, the pasta still has longer to cook.
4. Before you drain the pasta, remove about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the hot pasta water and set aside. Go ahead and drain the spaghetti.
5. On the same burner you used to boil the pasta, put a frying pan large enough to hold the spaghetti and extra pasta water. Add about a cup of the pasta water into the pan and then either start grinding pepper into it or add the pepper you already ground in advance. In about 30 seconds, add the spaghetti to the water. It’s okay if you haven’t ground in all the pepper you wanted, you can keep grinding more after the pasta is in.
6. When the pasta water is nearly all absorbed, remove from the heat and start adding the cheese. I would recommend adding about 3/4 of a cup to a cup at first and adding little bits from there, depending on texture. If you add too much cheese, you should still have some of the pasta water left to balance it out. Keep mixing fairly rapidly, you are looking for a creamy texture. If it’s soupy, add cheese. If it’s dry, add pasta water.
7. Immediately plate the pasta and top with a little more pecorino romano and ground pepper. Serve straight away b/c this dish is meant to be eaten very warm (basically one step away from burning the roof of your mouth). As soon as it starts cooling off, the texture will change and it will lose its creaminess.
8. Mangia. Play Antonello Venditti’s ‘Grazie Roma’.
Personally, this is one of my favorite dishes to eat and to be quite frank, it’s my go-to post-coitus meal. Some people get up and make a sandwich or have a bowl of cereal, I saunter into the kitchen and grate pecorino romano (don’t be jealous, we can’t all be le donne romane). It’s also the perfect meal to get up and make after flailing wildly and pulling one’s hair out in front of the tv while one’s team plays (or is that just me?). Regardless of whom you are rooting for *cough*Roma*cough*, this dish is hard to resist.
Back by popular demand, TeamEATS is a culinary guide to cooking and consuming the opposition. Each week, we pick a recipe from the home cuisine of Juve’s upcoming adversary, put on the kitchen apron and… cook it and eat it. Buon Appetito!