When there’s nothing in the house to eat—there’s always pasta, olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper, standard ingredients in the fridge and cupboard. When I need a quick dinner after a busy day, my go-to pasta is aglio e olio with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and lots of fresh parsley, and when I want to try something new there’s always Giuliano Bugialli’s book on pasta for inspiration.
I met a couple from Rome, about a year or so ago and the conversation naturally went the way of food. They described a mouthwatering recipe for a classic Roman pasta dish, cacio e pepe. It sounded perfect for a quick, simple and tasty last-minute supper. Made with oil, butter, grated Pecorino and lots of freshly ground pepper and that’s it, I was intrigued. I consulted Bugialli on Pasta, and found his recipe for cacio e pepe. Being a Tuscan there was a fair amount of butter and regular Parmesan cheese.
“No, no,” said the Roman couple, “We use olive oil and the cheese must be Pecorino with lots of pepper.”
The ingredients clung to the toothsome pasta for a satisfyingly rich and peppery dish.
Aglio e Olio for Two
My go-to pasta when there’s nothing in the house to eat! Through my many Italian culinary experiences, I’ve learned that grated cheese is never added to this dish. Variations can, however, include fresh herbs such as basil, torn into thirds.
1/2 pound spaghetti or linguini
Kosher salt for the pasta water
1/4 cup plus 1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
Kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
1. Bring a large, 5 to 6 quart, saucepan of water to a boil, and cover over high heat.
Add a tablespoon or so of salt to the pasta water and adjust heat to a brisk simmer. Add the pasta and separate strands with a pasta fork or tongs. Cook pasta, uncovered, at a rolling boil for 10 to 12 minutes until al dente, or firm to the bite
2. While pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a skillet over low heat. Add garlic to oil and sauté about 30 to 40 seconds, Add chili flakes, salt and pepper to taste and sauté until garlic is lightly golden, about 1 1/2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to brown. Keep warm over very low heat.
3. When pasta is ready, ladle 2 to 3 tablespoons pasta water to the skillet with the garlic and drain the pasta. Return to the saucepan the pasta cooked in; pour over the garlic, oil sauce and toss well until the pasta is well coated. Add the parsley; toss and serve at once on warm plates. Drizzle each serving with a bit of oil, if desired.
Cacio e Pepe
A classic Roman dish with grated cheese and coarsely ground black pepper. Pepper is a definite flavoring in this dish and important enough to be in the title of the recipe
1 pound spaghetti or vermicelli
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2/3 to 3/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
3 to 4 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper*
1. Bring a large, 5 to 6 quart, saucepan of cold water to the boil and cover over high heat. Add a tablespoon or so of salt to the pasta water and adjust heat to a brisk simmer. Add the pasta and separate strands with a pasta fork or tongs. Cook pasta uncovered, with water at a rolling boil for 10 to 12 minutes until al dente or “firm to the bite.”
2. While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. When the oil is warm add the butter and the oil, and let the butter melt completely, but do not let it brown. Season to taste with salt and keep warm.
3. When the pasta is ready, drain it and transfer to a warm serving platter. Pour over the hot oil and butter; toss on the grated cheese and ground pepper and toss to mix very well. Serve immediately on warm plates.
*Note: to coarsely grind the pepper to the proper consistency, place peppercorns in the middle square of wax paper and fold like an envelope. With meat pounder or the back of a skillet, pound the peppercorns until coarsely cracked.
Above recipe adapted from Giuliano on Pasta, Simon and Schuster, 1988.