Pecorino, or cacio in Italian, is a sheep’s milk cheese that has been made for centuries on the shores of the Mediterranean, northern Africa, and Asia Minor. There is evidence that this cheese was made and consumed as far back as 3,000 B.C.E. The cheesemaking technique began with the ancient Greeks, then was spread through the Roman Empire. It doesn’t spoil easily and so was ideal for long journeys. It has a sharp, salty flavor that accompanies the pepper very well.
To learn more about the history of the second main ingredient, peppercorns, see “Peppercorns: A Very Brief History.” This ancient spice has captured the minds and imaginations–culinary and otherwise–of what seems like the entire world.
Pasta has been around for ages, as well–literally. The earliest record of pasta was a plate of rice spaghetti, served in northwest China–4,000 years ago. At that point, China didn’t have access to the grains native to Europe and the Middle East. Soon after, the Arabs, Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans would all produce pasta very similar to what we eat today. The ancient Romans made a dough of water and flour, called laganum, then kneaded it and cut it into strips–very much like today’s fettucini. Spaghetti Cacio E Pepe was eaten frequently by shepherds. Using spaghetti noodles in this dish, rather than another noodle shape, allows the cheese to evenly coat the noodles, and gives a nod to the historic preparation of the dish.
Spaghetti Cacio E Pepe
8 oz spaghetti (dry)
¼ cup unsalted butter, cubed, divided
1 ½ tsp cracked peppercorn blend
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
½ cup finely grated pecorino cheese
1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil; season with kosher salt. Add pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain; RESERVE 1 cup pasta cooking water.
2.Meanwhile, melt 2 T butter in heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook until toasted, about 1 minute. Swirl the pan to prevent burning!
3. Add ½ cup plus 1 T reserved pasta water to skillet; simmer. Add pasta and remaining butter. Reduce heat; add parmesan, stir and toss until melted. Remove from heat; add Pecorino and stir and toss until melted. Add more of the pasta water if pasta seems dry; discard remaining water. Serve.
Tips from the Chef:
Use a pasta spoon to drain the noodles, rather than a colander. This makes it easy to reserve enough pasta water for the dish.