Cacio e pepe is wonderful dish to have up your sleeve, especially at times when you have little in the fridge. All you need is some Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, black pepper, flour and water (or dried pasta) to create a beautifully simple dish. The butter I use in this recipe to add extra richness can be substituted for pasta water instead should you prefer to keep it at its most simple.
I like using a combination of Pecorino and Parmesan for the strength of flavour the Pecorino adds, but you can also just use one or the other. Using young cheese (rather than aged Pecorino/Parmesan) works better, as it melts more easily into a creamy sauce.
Our wholemeal Khorasan flour has a distinctive flavour, with subtle notes of fragrant hay or freshly cut grass, and butter. The sauce is subtle enough not to overpower it, and the toasted black pepper complements it well. Thick strands of the pici serve to collect up the creamy, peppery sauce with ease, and as it’s a fairly robust type of fresh pasta, it’s very easy to make with a wholemeal flour, which otherwise can require more delicate handling for pasta shapes that need to be rolled very thinly. The bran in this flour also gives it some bite.
The pici itself is easy to make, you don’t need a pasta machine. There’s no escaping the appearance of it (!) but the richness of the sauce soon allays any trepidation over its visuals…
By reserving the pasta cooking water, you can adjust the thickness of your sauce easily to suit your personal preferences.
To make the pasta, weigh your flour plus a pinch of salt into a large mixing bowl (no need to sift it or you’ll remove some of the bran which has the flavour), and make a well in the middle. Gradually pour in 100ml of your water, mixing as you go. Form into a ball and knead for roughly 10 minutes.
As you knead, the bran may soak up more water, so add the extra 20ml of water bit by bit as required. You want a smooth dough which doesn’t crack as you work it. It should be firm, not wet to the touch. Form it into a disc, cover, and leave in a cool place for 45 minutes – 1 hour.
When you’re ready to make your pici, flour your work surface. Take 12g of dough at a time, and using your hands roll each piece into long thin strips a bit like grissini, roughly 0.5cm thick.
Before you start bringing the dish together, lightly toast your crushed peppercorns in a pan over a moderate heat until fragrant, for roughly three minutes. Set to one side.
Salt a pan of water and bring it to the boil. Cook the pici for 5 minutes (it will need a bit longer but you will finish it off in the sauce).
While your pasta is cooking, in a second pan, add the butter, a splash of pasta water, and the toasted black pepper. Combine over a medium heat until it has melted together, then turn the heat to low until your pasta is ready to add. I like to add just a hint of lemon juice to this but this is not traditional, so leave out if you prefer.
Drain the pasta, reserving the pasta water.
Add the pasta to the butter and pepper, turn up the heat again and cook for a further minute, until the pici is al dente and ready to eat. It should be creamy from the pasta water. If it needs more liquid / time to cook, you can add a little more pasta water as you go.
In a bowl, combine half a ladleful of the reserved pasta water with the grated cheese, and stir into a paste.
Remove the pasta from the heat and add the pecorino and Parmesan paste. Allow it to melt in, and stir through until the pici is coated in creamy sauce.
Season with grated black pepper and adapt the strength of this to taste, and serve straight away.