My exploration of Rome’s typical pasta dishes starts with the seemingly simple, yet incredibly delicious Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe.
This traditional dish uses three simple ingredients Tonnarelli pasta (also known as spaghetti alla chitarra), grated cacio, and freshly ground black pepper. Its simplicity implies the dish started as a most likely everyday dish thanks to the region’s shepherds producing the popular cheese.
A break down of the three ingredients:
Tonnarelli are egg noodles that are a thicker, squared version of spaghetti. The dough includes egg yolk, giving the pasta a yellow hue, but more importantly, a rich flavor.
Cacio is a Roman cheese made from milk of ewe – adult female sheep. Similar to Pecorino, Cacio is semi-soft and mild flavor with a slight kick.
And, pepe is simply black pepper (typically freshly ground).
Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe
- ½ lbs. tonnarelli (or spaghetti alla chitarra) (250 grams)
- ¾ cups Cacio or Pecorino Romano, grated (150 grams)
- 1 tbsp cracked black pepper
- In a pot, set water to boil.
- Salt, the water, then add pasta.NOTE: Do not cook fully, as they will continue to cook in pan.
- In a medium pan, toast cracked black pepper until aromatic. Add 3-4 scoops of boiling pasta water. NOTE: You want a shallow bath for the pasta.
- Add almost cooked pasta to pan and stir, mixing the water and pepper all around the pasta. Let water bubble and stir, allowing the pasta to soak the water. While that is happening, make cheese paste.
- Cheese Paste: In a bowl add grated Pecorino Romano cheese, then a drop of pasta water and mix to create a paste. Set aside.
- As the water in pan cooks down, you will see the starch of the pasta helped water to thicken, almost like a cream. Remove from heat.
- Flip pasta around in pan to let cool.
- Add the cheese paste and mix well, allowing the paste to complete melt, creating a creamy coating and an incredible aroma. This doesn’t seem too complicated, but the trick is to prevent cheese clumps from forming. When cheese heats up it typically melts then clumps. To prevent this, mix cheese in away from heat, after pasta has been tossed for slight cooling.Note: Some restaurants perform this last step right at the table.
- Immediately plate, top with a light sprinkle of black pepper, and serve.