I first had cacio e pepe in Venice – on a 48-hour bolt away on a whim with my friend Russell, to blast away a creeping depression that was starting to overwhelm me. The trip was impulsive; he was there already and I needed to run away from my four walls for a moment or two, to wander, to eat with abandon, to explore and enjoy. We wandered through cobbled streets, drank Negronis with chilli-stuffed fat olives in bars, stayed out until the small hours and ate pasta several times a day. It was in these short 48 hours that I had my first risi e bisi and cacio e pepe, and I associate both with the comfort of being listened to, the wonder of new adventures and the gentle shoulders-down, opulent contentment of the company of an old friend. Cacio e pepe is simple, but not austere. Easy, but the rewards for such little effort are abundant in their dividends. It is simply pasta, butter, cheese and pepper; once you master this recipe, you’re only ever eight minutes from gratifying satiation. Which is quicker, and far cheaper, than a flight to Venice.
Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil and salt it generously. Drop your pasta into it and stir once or twice to shift any pieces that might be thinking about settling on the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan and reduce to a simmer for 8–10 minutes, depending on your pasta.
Meanwhile, dice your butter into cubes if it is firm, or scoop up a large spoonful if it is soft. Set to one side. Grate your cheese very finely – plenty of it.
When the pasta is soft – and I like this particular dish nursery-soft – drain and quickly return to the pan. Add the butter, most of the cheese and a few generous grinds of black pepper. Serve topped with yet more cheese and pepper.
This does not keep brilliantly – although saying that, cold and slightly stiff cacio e pepe is still preferable to having none at all. If you’re willing to accept a below-par version, you can chill it in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Reheat thoroughly in a pan to serve and loosen with more butter. Absolutely not recommended for freezing.
© Jack Monroe, 2020