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IndyRob

Cacio e Pepe (and recipes in general)

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I've decided to make Cacio e Pepe tonight.  It's a very simple thing, but it seems like most references say it's only good if it's done right.  But the thing is, apparently, no one seems to agree on what that way is.  From youtube videos to internet recipes from generally respected sites, there seems to be much disagreement.

 

For instance, Saveur uses 1lb of pasta and 2 tsp of pepper.  Mario Batali uses 1lb pasta and 1/4C of pepper.  Some insist that Pecorino Romano must be the only cheese.  Others include Parm or other cheeses.  I think there's room in most recipes for a little personal preference choice, but I think it's fascinating how such a simple thing has spawned so many different takes.  Some will cook the pepper in oil (something ATK did for a pepper encrusted tenderloin - it's supposed to take the heat out of the pepper), others ignore it completely.  Batali toasts his pepper in a pan without oil.

 

Another interesting thing concerns the amount of salt in the pasta water.  Only 2 of 6 recipes offer specific guidance.  And one of them contradicts itself.  No wonder this remains such a frequently asked question.

 

So I decided to put several recipes from the internet side by side for review.  I think this would be nigh on impossible for, say, lasagna recipes, but I would've expected a closer sort of harmony in something like this.

 

  Saveur Bon Appetit Chowhound Talesofambrosia.com NYTimes (Bittman) Mario Batali (abc.go.com)
Spaghetti 1lb 6oz 2lbs 400g 3/4LB 1LB
Black Pepper 2 tsp 1tsp 6TB To Taste 1TB ¼C
Parm   3/4C     1C 1/4C
Pecorino 1C 1/3C 3 1/2C 200-250g 1 ½C 1/4C
Olive Oil 4Tb       1tsp or 2 6TB
Butter   3Tb 6TB     6TB
Water 6qt 3qt 12qt 4L Pot 6qt
Salt To Taste ? Heavily Salted Water 40g (or 20g, because the Pecorino is salty?) enough to salt pasta water 3TB
Other 3/4C Cacio de Roma 3/4C Grana Padano or Parm        
Method Heat Oil, Add pepper, 1-2 min. Add 3/4C Pasta water, boil, add pasta, Add cheese, toss (more water if needed) Heat 2TB butter, Add pepper, 1 min. Add ½ cup water, add pasta and remaining butter. Add Grana/Parm, remove from heat, add Pecorino (add more water if needed) Combine pasta and 2C pasta water over low heat. Add remaining ingredients and stir until creamy, about 5 min. Heat serving bowl, add drained pasta and some pasta water. Add cheese and toss 'til creamy. Add pepper. Mash cheeses and pepper with enough cold water to make a paste. Add cooked pasta and stir with a tsp or two of olive oil, adding a bit of pasta water if nec. Toast pepper dry. Add butter and oil. Add 1/4C pasta water, pasta, toss over med heat. Stir in cheeses. More water if nec.
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 I don't have the math skills to attempt this but I think it would be interesting if we could see this as percentages. 

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It just so happens that Serious Eats had this recipe in their email today.  They call for 4T olive oil, 1 t black pepper, (toasted in olive oil), 1/2 pound spaghetti,  (a small pinch of salt added to water), 2 T butter and 2 ounces (1 cup) Pecorino Romano.  Another variation.

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Did they use a minimal amount of water?  I seem to remember that either they or ATK recommended this in one instance to maximize the starch in the water.

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Okay, I return, after dinner, suitably humbled and with mouth burning of the five hells xD.

 

But that's okay.  I'm alright.  Look, I get it.  Kenji figures it out and then he posts.  I'm not that smart.

 

But here's what I learned tonight.  The technique, which, in these recipes, I don't believe I've done a disservice in summarizing, is more important than the ingredient list.  Watch the youtube videos of the actual Italian guys doing it right.  If you don't properly introduce the peppery oil, pasta, water and cheese, disasters will beset you.  None of these recipes really address this, except maybe Bittman's, which may strike a blow for the non-traditional.  I was ready to ridicule that, but I think he's gotten the better of me.

 

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Kenji says to put the spaghetti in a skiller and cover it with water.  But maybe you already saw that.

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I think developing a hating Kenji complex may be my next faux-endearing personality trait.  Oh, Kenji this, Kenji that...xD


Edited by IndyRob (log)
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12 hours ago, IndyRob said:

I think developing a hating Kenji complex may be my next faux-endearing personality trait.  Oh, Kenji this, Kenji that...xD

Yeah, exactly.

 

Butter would never be used in Rome. Nor would the tremendous amounts of olive oil the orange-clogged one uses.

 

And just saying Pecorino Romano without specifying the style of pecorino romano...is like writing about brewing coffee w/o mentioning water.

 

Anyone ever try to make a paste with grated pecorino and cold water?

 

Maureen Fant's classic recipe produces great results.

 

 

 

 

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Cacio e pepe is a 'traditional' southern Italian recipe. Traditional means every household makes it differently. And it's cucina e povera, poor people food, so that means no food goes to waste & you use what you have. 

About the only thing I'd say is a constant is to use dried spaghetti. The rest is up to personal taste & what's in the fridge. 

My version is something like a carbonara e pepe. I use egg. Sometimes I go completely radical and throw in some saffron. Delicious. 

I like lots of pepper, so that's what I use. When I get tired of grinding & it looks right, I'm done. relax. enjoy. 

 

(P.S. Salt in the pasta water: its not a measurement, it's a mantra:  "The pasta water should be as salty as the sea."

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5 hours ago, hathor said:

"The pasta water should be as salty as the sea."

 

I guess that could be it's own topic (actually, I'd be amazed if it wasn't already).  But I recently saw a video on YouTube that sought to expose that notion as ludicrous.  And I thought it did a pretty good job of it.

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6 hours ago, hathor said:

  "The pasta water should be as salty as the sea."

 

Doubtful, even considering personal preference.  I'd suggest you try making your pasta water truly  as salty as sea water and see how you like it.  Might be just right for your taste.

 

http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/05/how-salty-should-pasta-water-be.html

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On 2/28/2016 at 7:09 PM, Shel_B said:

 

Doubtful, even considering personal preference.  I'd suggest you try making your pasta water truly  as salty as sea water and see how you like it.  Might be just right for your taste.

 

http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/05/how-salty-should-pasta-water-be.html

Here's the kicker...different seas have different levels of salt! Now what? LOL! 

I've seen and read all sorts of theories about the amount of salt. Find what you like & enjoy it. That's the absolute beauty of home cooking. 

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