Cacio e Pepe (without Za’atar)

I finally made a cacio e pepe I am proud of! I’d tried several times each with a different approach and it was always a failure (clumpy, oily, gummy, whatever). Then I found a WaPo recipe for a za’atar variation, tried it, had much better results, and stole the technique. It’s the best cacio e pepe method I have found so far, so I’m sticking to it for next time.

Pro tips from last-night-me to next-time-me:

  • you gotta microplane that cheese as finely as possible
  • pecorino grates more easily than grana padano (which I subbed for the parm
    this time) or parmigiano
  • our cheapo IKEA stainless steel skillet was fine for boiling the pasta, but with so little water (to encourage the starchiness) it really can stick if you’re not careful
  • our 12″ cast iron skillet was a champ for everything else
  • the proportions below are scaled down by 50% from the original; that was plenty for two adults as a primo along with some roasted brussels sprouts — steamed broccoli would be a good choice next time, too

adapted from this WaPo recipe

Ingredients

  • 3.5 cups (800 ml) water
  • 3/8 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for finishing to taste
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) dried bucatini (or other long pasta, cooking time adjusted if necessary)
  • 2 tablespoons (25 g) unsalted butter
  • 1.5 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 ounces (60 g) Parmesan cheese, very finely grated
  • 1/2 ounce (15 g) pecorino Romano cheese, very finely grated

Directions

In a deep, wide skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil, then stir in the salt. Cook the bucatini in that for 9 minutes (or per package instructions) until al dente, stirring every now and then so they don’t stick together or to the bottom of the pan, and to ensure they are submerged. Add hot water if necessary to keep the pasta just-barely covered. Drain, reserving all the cooking water. (You should have about 1 1/8 cups (265 ml) water; if not, add enough hot water until you do.)

In a large, high-sided, nonstick saute pan over high heat, cook the butter until bubbling, then stir the pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the reserved cooking water (carefully, watch for steam bursts), bring to a rapid boil and cook until silky and slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Toss in the pasta and stir vigorously into the sauce. Add the Parmesan in two batches, continuing to stir vigorously as you go and waiting until the first half has melted before adding the next. Once all the Parmesan has melted, add the pecorino, continuing to stir, until it has also melted and the sauce is smooth and silky.

Serve hot.