Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Something From Nothing #32: Cacio e Pepe (Pasta with cheese and cracked pepper)

I remember my parents talking about the good old days when my sister and I were babies and they didn't have two nickles to rub together. They ate lots of dried beans, rice and macaroni. They even mashed up these foods and fed them to us as baby food, more out of necessity than choice. This is probably why we grew up eating everything. There wasn't much that Mom pulled out of her 1960's pantry that we turned our nose up at.

I don't know about your pantry, but mine is probably much like my mother's. It is always stocked with flour, sugar, dried pasta, beans, rice and an assortment of canned goods that usually include tomatoes, beans of every kind and maybe just a can or two of condensed milk.

Now my fridge on the other hand is a bit of a different story. Being a person that loves to cook, you might see things in there that some people might not believe is a staple. Like cream. I always have cream on hand because it is so versatile. Not only does it last in the fridge a long time, it can be whipped for sweet treats, used as an ingredient for a delicious sweet or savory sauce, frozen for ice cream or used plain as a delicious dessert topping. Love the stuff.

I also always have a couple of cheeses on hand at all times. I love Parmesan, blue and cheddar, so one or all are usually hanging around in the deli drawer. I always use real butter so I stock up when there is a sale. You might want to watch your toes when digging through my freezer, because you never know when a frozen pound or two will come tumbling out.

So these are some of the ingredients that set the stage for my Something From Nothing posts. Simple things that get us through those times when we are too tired, or like in the case of my young parents, too broke to hit the supermarket.

For this month's recipe, I looked to Italy for inspiration. The Italians are some of the most frugal people on earth, and the things that they can do with a few simple ingredients are no less than magic. This simple recipe of pasta in a buttery pepper sauce with lots of cheese is a prime example of the things you can do with just a few things that you might have hanging around your villa.

Cacio e Pepe

Simply translated, cacio e pepe means cheese and pepper. This dish is as popular to the Romans as mac and cheese is to us.  Even though I am calling it by the same name, my version has a few variations that make it a little less traditional than you would find in the cafes of Rome, but good all the same.

8 ounces spaghetti, bucatini or your favorite pasta, cooked to package directions in generously salted water
1 - 2 teaspoons coarsely ground black, pink or white peppercorns (or a blend of)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, plus more for sprinkling on finished dish
1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water

While pasta is cooking, place ground peppercorns in a medium size saucepan over medium heat. Toast until aroma is released, stirring frequently.

After 30 seconds or so add olive oil and butter to the pan, stirring until butter is melted. Add the garlic and cook until the butter just starts to brown.

Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the butter sauce. Sprinkle with the cheese. Toss with tongs to coat. Toss in pasta water 1/4 cup at a time if needed to loosen sauce.

Serve immediately with extra cheese, or red pepper flakes.

Serves 2 as a meal or 4 as an appetizer.

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