There was a time when I believed that Cooking (with a capital C) required two dozen ingredients, preferably ingredients that were difficult for mere mortals to find. Over time, I came to understand that simpler combinations of ingredients often merged to create more satisfying results.
This pasta came about when the Tiny Kitchen Assistant requested, “a simple pasta; something with olive oil and cheese.” I had the rough idea in my head, and a Google search led me to cacio e pepe, a cheese and pepper sauce. If you look at the recipes that are out there, you’ll see a dozen variations: butter, cream, multiple kinds of cheeses. I’m sure that each of these things makes for a tasty pasta, but simplicity was the order of the day.
This could be a main dish or a side to a heartier meal.
- 1 lb dried pasta (spaghetti is the traditional shape, but we stick with shapes that are more fork-friendly for little guys)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated cheese (I used 1/2 cup parmegiano reggiano and 1/2 cup pecorino romano)
Cook pasta according to package instructions. I usually reduce cooking time by 1 minute because I prefer my pasta to be more al dente.
With about 3 minutes left to go on your pasta timer, heat oil in a large skillet. When the oil is shimmering hot, add the freshly ground pepper, stirring frequently. Cook for about two minutes, until fragrant.
Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain pasta.
Slowly and carefully add 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water to the oil and pepper mixture. It will splatter. Heat the mixture to boiling.
Add pasta to the skillet and toss to coat. Add cheese and toss together, stirring frequently until the sauce creamy and clings to the pasta. Use the extra pasta water to thin the cheesiness, if necessary.
Since I wasn’t sure how spicy the pepper would be, I made two versions: one with pepper for the grownups and one with just oil and cheese for the Tiny Kitchen Assistant. He loved it. My husband gave it a thumbs-up and was surprised to learn that it used so few ingredients.
Apologies for the lack of photo, but in pictures this looks exactly like… plain pasta. Because it tastes much better than it looks, I ask you to use your imagination on this one.