Cacio e Pepe – Classic Roman Pasta

Rome’s famed pasta dish.

With and endless amount of authentic Italian cuisine, choosing a favorite is a bit unfair. Similar to having to pick one Mexican, French and so on. I’m talking about “authentic” not an Americanized version but what you would eat when in that country, that they are also famous for.

Cacio e pepe, with it's simple ingredients... prego (unknown photographer).

Cacio e pepe, with it’s simple ingredients… prego (unknown photographer).

Of all the countries I’ve had the pleasure to eat in, Italy reigns supreme, making it even more difficult to narrow down that one dish, that no matter what, I have to order when there. But there is one, and it also is one of the most simple dishes of all, but don’t let simplicity fool you. It’s called CACIO E PEPE. It’s a true Roman pasta dish, though found through out Italy.

Pecorino Romano, a pleasure to eat by itself, but even better in Cacio e pepe (unknown photographer).

Pecorino Romano, a pleasure to eat by itself, but even better in Cacio e pepe (unknown photographer).

Cacio e Pepe basically translates to cheese and pepper. It contains three simple ingredients… black pepper, Pecorino Romana (a salty, hard cheese, usually grated, made from sheep’s milk & originally from Rome) and pasta (preferably a thin, long pasta such as spaghetti, vermicelli etc). But don’t let the name, nor the three ingredients be taken lightly. Because it’s flavor is unique and complex when prepared correctly. That preparation also, is simpler said than done. As all through Rome, you will have different chefs tell you how it’s to be prepared, let alone all through Italy. But the old school way, what history has shown and for example, renown Roman chef, Davide Sagliocco of Ristorante Borgo Antico, told me in an interview (which I‘ll post his recipe with that article soon)… that when combining the three ingredients, it’s important to add a little of the hot pasta water. Which not only helps melt the cheese, but the starch from the pasta in the water helps to bind the pepper and cheese to the pasta. You will find many chefs, professional and amateur, use olive oil, cream and other ingredients. But as said, the true way is the black pepper, Pecorino Romana cheese and pasta.

The one and only cheese to put in Cacio e pepe... Pecorino Romano (unknown photographer).

The one and only cheese to put in Cacio e pepe… Pecorino Romano (unknown photographer).

My wife and I were fortunate in our travels through Italy to consume almost as much Cacio e Pepe as we did pizza, we never had a bad plate of it, where as the same can’t be said about a slice of pizza. But then pizza can be grabbed everywhere in Italy as it can here in the States, but you “usually” have to find a place to sit down when ordering pasta. Our first meal in Rome, which was also our first stop in Italy, we enjoyed great Cacio e Pepe, and almost our last meal in Venice was the same. Thank you Italy. I say that because for such a Roman and Italian staple, it’s almost impossible to find here in America. This must change if I ever have any influence on the American food culture, lol.

Their Cacio e Pepe... wonderful.

The Cacio e Pepe at Il Papalino in Rome, Italy.

Back to those simple ingredients again. When prepared the right way, you are opening your taste buds to not only incredible flavor, but a taste of what Rome, and Italy has to offer. There’s a reason dishes like this have been prepared there for a couple thousand years, yes, a couple thousand years, not just a couple hundred. They enjoyed it in ancient Rome and today it’s just as popular. So when you sit down for your first bite to eat in Rome, don’t let the word pizza roll off your tongue, make sure it’s Cacio e Pepe.

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