Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

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You remove the spaghetti from its water after a mere four or five minutes, when it is the sort of al dente that breaks teeth, although it must have softened enough to bend in the pan. You then proceed to ladle in some of its cooking water so that a dish that starts like a conventional plate of pasta is cooked like a risotto, albeit one that is finished with nothing but water and handfuls of pepper and cheese. It is a recipe that is well suited to the non-Italian, most of whom can never manage the act of faith of removing pasta from its cooking water just before it is ready and can never resist the temptation to wait an extra thirty seconds and thus usually serve it slightly overcooked.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 100 g ( oz) Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 300 g (10½ oz) spaghetti
  • salt
  • olive oil, to serve (optional)

Method

Using a mortar and pestle, pound the peppercorns to what the French call a mignonette, in which every peppercorn is crushed but not pounded to a fine consistency. Finely grate all the cheese.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil with a small handful of salt. Add the spaghetti, stir with tongs or a long fork and bring back to the boil for just 5 minutes. Using tongs, lift the spaghetti out into a large saucepan or wok. Add a ladleful of the cooking water and continue to cook the spaghetti, stirring with the tongs. After a minute add a handful of the cheese and a spoonful of the pepper and more cooking water: the idea is to produce a creamy emulsion of cheese, pepper, water and the starch from the pasta that clings to each strand of spaghetti. Continue for 2–3 minutes, alternately adding cheese, pepper and cooking water until the cheese and pepper are all used up and the spaghetti still has that authentic ‘bite’.

Serve the pasta immediately. Some Romans allow a little good olive oil to be trickled over it before serving.

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