Simply Satisfying – Cacio e pepe with lemon

You don’t have to be Italian to cook like one – although it helps!cacio

Once again when “glamping” we try to keep it simple for obvious reasons while coming up with restaurant quality dishes as often as possible.  This is one of them.

Don’t you love the elegant name of this dish – which is simply a glorified sounding Italian staple synomymous with Pecorino Romano –  but Pecorino clumps when cooked.  Add it at the end, instead, which also makes the most of its sharp flavor.  Lemon adds spunk – that is, acidity and freshness.  Before assembling please see note at bottom for the distinct differences when using Pecorino and Parmesan.  I guarantee you will love this.

 Recipe:

8 ounces thick spaghetti or linguine

½ stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces, softened or at room temperature

2 ounces Grana Padano or Parmigiana Reggiano cheese grated (1 cup)

2 tsp. freshly cracked pepper (use a mortar and pestle or the coarsest setting on a grinder), plus more for garnish.  Pepper flakes for finish (optional)

¾ ounce Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (1/4 cup)

1 small lemon (preferably Meyer)

High quality extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

 1)      The first thing is to undercook the pasta (al dente).  Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook until very al dente – about 2 minutes less than called for in package instructions.  Reserve 1 cup pasta water before draining.

 2)      The key to a lush, silky sauce: Transfer pasta to a 12-inch skillet (preferably non-stick).  Add butter and ¼ cup pasta water.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  The heat helps the starch in the water meld with the fat from the butter, which prevents the Parmesan cheese from becoming stringy in the finished dish.

 3)      Parmesan (either GP or PR): Reduce heat to low, and mix in whichever grated parmesan you chose with the cracked pepper.  I use Parmigiano Reggiano in all my pasta dishes as a personal preference.  Both are softer than Pecorino Romano.  It will melt into the butter water, creating a sauce as the pasta finishes cooking.

 4)      Toss and Simmer with tongs to thoroughly coat it with the sauce.  Keep everything at a gentle simmer just until the cheese melts and sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute.

 5)      Pecorino and Zest: Remove from heat, then stir in the Pecorino Romano.  Always add Pecorino off direct heat: it clumps when cooked.  Zest lemon over the pasta to catch any extra.  Any type will do but a Meyer is particularly nice in this dish.  It’s sweeter in flavor and aroma, with back notes of orange and lime.

 6)      Finishing Touches: If pasta looks dry, toss it with a bit more pasta water until it has a glossy coating.  Divide between 2 warm (preferably) bowls.  Drizzle each with oil and lemon juice and garnish with more cracked pepper & red pepper flakes. Top with fresh basil leaves or flat-leaf parsley for added presentation.  Serve immediately.

And know that sometimes the dishes with the least ingredients are also sometimes the most satisfying.

Parm vs Pecorino – these hard cheeses enhance nearly everything, making them both winners in the kitchen.  Knowing their differences will make you a smarter shopper and a better cook.

 Try to buy the block verses “already grated” unless you’re in a super hurry.  Grated is more convenient so if you must then buy it from the refrigerated section.  The blocks are more versatile as you can also shave it into salads.  It can keep for several months wrapped in parchment and plastic.  Bonus: when the cheese is gone, Parmesan’s rind can be used simmered into soups to add rich flavor.

 Parmesan                           vs                  Pecorino Romano

 Made from Cow’s Milk                             Sheep’s Milk

 Rich, Nutty, Salty                                       Sharp, Earthy, Robust

 Pricey but worth the splurge                    A bit more budget friendly

Parmesan: domestic varieties are available but classic Parmigiano-Reggiano is  made only in a certain region of Italy.  A stamped rind lets you know it’s the real deal.

Pecorino: Feeling fancy?  Go for Locatelli  brand *Pecorino Romano, a famously delicious pick imported from Italy. *Use this strong cheese sparingly.   To use in place of Parmesan use less than the recipe calls for.

glamping” is a glamorized version of regular camping – camping with flair (plus I don’t like to sleep in a tent).  But you can make this any old time.