Guilt can be a powerful thing–and as with all things powerful, it must be used in responsible ways. Michael is headed for a conference this coming weekend, leaving me to fend for myself for six days.* Naturally we’ve had periods of separation before–usually because I’m the one traveling for work–but this will be the longest period we’ve had to deal with since I moved to Connecticut five years ago. I know Michael feels bad about leaving me to have to cook for myself for a whole work week because not only did we have pasta on Sunday night, he was the one suggesting to make it and he acquiesced to my request for cacio e pepe without much protest.
In other words, he brooked no opposition to us having a dish that is, in essentials, pasta and cheese. Yep, that’s guilt.
Of course, Michael also got his roasted chicken fix, because this was really about indulging each other on our last leisurely weekend supper for a while, and nothing says indulgence to him like a roasted chicken. While steak is his favorite splurge, the comparative healthfulness of a kosher chicken and the seemingly limitless ways to roast it means it appears on our table much more often. Some white wine, rosemary, olive oil and lemon made the marinade that it sat in for a few hours, and then some time in the oven rendered it juicy and delicious.
But even Michael admitted that the star of the night was the pasta.
I had seen in our copy of Rome that cacio e pepe could be made with fresh pasta, and from the second I saw the recipe it haunted me–I wanted to make that pasta so much, but Michael thought that there wasn’t much to a dish that consisted of pasta and cheese to justify the time to make fresh pasta; after all, we’ve made it in the past with dried and it was tasty. But something about the usage of fresh pasta intrigued me to no end, so I kept quiet and when the time was right, I managed to hold my point.
It was totally worth the effort. Unlike some other scratch dinners we’ve had over the past few weekends (that we’ll chronicle here, I promise–it’s just that the battle scars have yet to heal) this was relatively painless to make; with so few other ingredients in play, the focus could rest on the fresh pasta. Often Michael will prefer to run his knife through rolled pasta to make wide noodles, but this called for thin noodles (and while I don’t know if our noodles technically count as tonnarelli, but they are close enough, I guess) and so a pass through the thin cutter rollers was in order. Letting the sheets dry a bit (we use one of our drying racks) helps the pasta to cut easier and to not clump up on the table afterward, as shown above.
The other key to this dish is treating it not as pasta with cheese, but pasta with a cheese sauce. Getting a pecorino or rustico cheese studded with peppercorns is a great start (it will save you from having to grind a lot of your own later on), but it’s also important to secure at least 1 1/2 cups of pasta water to help with the sauce-making process. It helps the cheese melt into something other than pasta and actually turn into a creamy substance. You add a little water, then you add the cheese and some pepper and you stir, and then you add a little more cheese and pepper, a little more water, this and that until you’re out of cheese and hopefully not out of water. And while this photo downplays the presence of pepper in the dish; trust me when I say that you taste it. And it is glorious.
Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe
adapted from Rome
- 1 batch fresh pasta dough or thinly cut store-bought fresh pasta
- 1/2 lb rustico cheese with peppercorns or pecorino with peppercorns or pecorino romano, grated finely
- 2 tablespoons peppercorns (or double that if not using a cheese with peppercorns), freshly ground
- Kosher salt
If using homemade pasta dough, run pieces of it through the rollers to the highest setting, then let sheets dry on a drying rack or similar for about 10-15 minutes before cutting it with a pasta machine on the thin setting. Let pasta dry a little more on a table while you grate the cheese and bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a generous amount of kosher salt to the boiling water.
Add pasta into the pot and let it cook until it floats, about 2-3 minutes. Be sure to reserve at least 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water to help blend the cheese and the pasta. Drain the pasta, place it back into the pot, and start adding the cheese: first add a generous splash of pasta water, then add some cheese and pepper and stir well to coat. Keep adding cheese and pepper to the pasta and stir well, adding pasta water as needed to the pot until it is all fully incorporated. When ready, add to individual bowls and serve immediately.
*Stay tuned next week for what I manage to make when I get home from work at 7PM each night. If you have any great make-ahead meals that you think I should try, please leave them for me in the comments.