Cacio e pepe

The food: spaghetti with Pecorino Romano, pepper, tomatoes, olives and herbs

The story:

My friend Fern came back from a short trip to Rome rhapsodizing about the outstanding dishes of pasta she’d eaten, including a fabulous tonnarelli cacio e pepe. Consumed with envy, I looked up what the hell that was ( a spaghetti-like pasta made in a classic Roman preparation with pecorino cheese and pepper), slapped myself upside the head for not knowing (and I call myself a food-obsessive!) and resolved to make myself some, post-haste.

A quick internet search led me to a nifty adaptation of the classic recipe from Rachael Ray – one of several (!) variations on cacio e pepe that she’s published. I adapted it further and proceeded to happily stuff my face with the result. Until the next time I get to Rome (which could be a while, considering the last time I was there was in 1975), this dish will hold me over nicely when I’m craving something simple, sophisticated and easy to overeat.

Cacio e Pepe with Warm Tomatoes (adapted from Rachael Ray)

Ingredients:

10-15 strawberry tomatoes, halved
1 cup mixture of fresh chopped basil, flat-leaf parsley and mint
6 Tbsp. best quality extra virgin olive oil you can get
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghettini
1-2 cups grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
about 1/2 c. pitted black olives, not canned

Preparation:

1. Put large pot of water on to boil for pasta.
2. When boiling, add spaghettini to water.
3. Heat oil in saute pan over medium heat. Grind generous amount of pepper into oil to taste, 8-10 grinds of a mill.
4. When oil is shimmering, add tomatoes, cut side down and saute for a few minutes until slightly softened.
5. Remove saute pan from heat and stir in fresh herbs and olives.
6. When pasta is al dente, drain, reserving 1/2 c. pasta cooking water.
7. Toss pasta in saute pan with tomatoes, herbs, peppery oil, 3/4 cup of grated Pecorino-Romano cheese and some of the pasta water until saucy coating forms and all elements are combined. Serve in pasta dishes.
8. Finish with sea salt such as Flor de Sal D’es Trenc, Mediterranean blend.
9. Pass the extra cheese at the table.

Serves 4.

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