Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

And speaking of Italian food: How to make the perfect cacio e pepe

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Felicity Cloake writes in the Guardian:

If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry – until about two months ago, neither had I. Then, suddenly, cacio e pepe was everywhere, virtually speaking at least, a million slick strands of cheesy spaghetti clogging up social media like a vast hipster hairball.

Those who claim a longer familiarity with the idea probably have some connection with Rome, where it’s an old favourite – its simplicity means that it’s rarely found in restaurants abroad, at least until recently. Then, suddenly, the once humble primi launched its quest for world domination – it pops up as the eternal city’s “trendiest pasta dish” in 2012, and by the beginning of this year, Time Out was already declaring it New York’s “trendiest dish of 2016”.

And where America leads, Britain follows. London restaurateur Russell Norman claims he first came across cacio e pepe on holiday in Tuscany last summer, put it on the menu as a special and then, he told Esquire: “I noticed something odd – it had simultaneously started to appear on other restaurant menus in London with alarming frequency. On a subsequent trip to New York, I saw it everywhere there, too. Cacio e pepe has fully entered the collective psyche of foodies. It is part of the restaurant zeitgeist. It has become a trend.”

Trendy for good reason: beautiful in its three-ingredient simplicity, cheap and quick to put together – but very easy to get wrong. As Rachel Roddy notes, there is a fine line between clump and cream, and making a smooth sauce from dry cheese and water is a skill that needs to be learned, as I realised on my first, second and seventh attempts. Once you’ve mastered it, however, cacio e pepe is a dish for life; one that can be knocked up in minutes with the most basic of store cupboard ingredients. So, don’t hate it because it’s hip, make it because it’s good.

The pasta

Norman says that in his experience, cacio e pepe is generally served with pici, “short, clumsily rolled, thick spaghetti”. Roddy reckons that tonnarelli, or square-cut spaghetti, is a favourite in Rome – indeed, Marco Baccanelli and Francesca Barreca, chefs of that city’s Mazzo restaurant, make their own. Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy recommend rigatoni in the Geometry of Pasta, and Christopher Boswell, the chef behind the Rome Sustainable Food project, prefers wholemeal paccheri or rigatoni in his book Pasta, on the basis that “the flavour of the whole grain is strong enough to stand up to the sharp and salty sheep’s milk cheese” (as I can find neither easily, I have to content myself with brown penne instead).

As with that other Roman favourite, carbonara, the principal pleasure of cacio e pepe is in the slurping up of slippery strands of saucy pasta, which, to my mind, rules out rigatoni or paccheri – long noodles are required. Tonnarelli is great if you can find it (spaghetti alla chitarra is similar, and slightly more widely available in the UK), but for the common or garden non-Roman, spaghetti will do just fine. Although the flavour works, I don’t find the wholemeal sort smooth enough for this particular dish, and testers agree they prefer the more robust texture of dry pasta with such strong flavours.

J Kenji López-Alt of the website Serious Eats breaks with ancient tradition by cooking the pasta in the bare minimum of water in order to concentrate the starch which, in this case, will help to thicken the sauce. Though I might be smitten by Jupiter himself for such heresy, the theory makes sense – and, as long as you stir the noodles occasionally during cooking, they don’t seem to suffer for lack of space.

The pepper

Again, as with carbonara, this should be added in quantity – Roddy toasts the peppercorns before crushing, which brings out their flavour beautifully. López-Alt fries them in oil, which he reckons helps to distribute their flavour more evenly throughout the dish, and Baccanelli and Barreca make a peppercorn broth to . . .

Continue reading. Photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2019 at 7:57 pm

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