The one truth underpinning Italian cuisine is that the simpler the recipe, the harder it is to get it right! Italians love to make the ingredients shine. They use the very best ingredients they can get and make the flavours of each ingredient stand out, but somehow, combine perfectly. For this dish, the quality of the ingredients is as important as the technique used in preparing the meal.
The last time we were in Rome, our cousin took us out to lunch to a well-known and very tiny trattoria called Da Gianni Cacio e Pepe (their speciality is tonnarelli al Cacio e Pepe, a fresh square spaghetti type of pasta with pecorino romano and pepper).
This is a tiny, rustic, no fuss, Roman eatery with a huge reputation that more than makes up for the tiny size of the place! Every Roman knows about this trattoria – it is like a Mecca for foodies because the food is THAT fantastic! This is not a trattoria on the tourist track serving sub-standard Italian food at elevated prices. This is a spot where the local Romans go to eat incredible Roman food…but now that I’ve told you about it…make sure you go there for lunch! We’ve been dreaming about their pasta for the last two years and cannot wait to eat there again!
The menu is simple, with only a few choices, and is handwritten on the wall outside the trattoria, if that. Otherwise, the waiters are more than happy to tell you what is on offer. There are a handful of tables inside the trattoria but most of the seating is on the footpath in front of the tiny eatery. This is where you want to sit to get the full street-food experience! The line to be seated can be long but it moves quickly enough, however try to make a booking if you can.
- 400g spaghetti (or tonnarelli if you can find them)
- 250g aged Pecorino Romano, use the best quality you can get
- Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- 20g salt
- Bring 4 litres of water to boil.
- In meantime, grate the Pecorino Romano on the finest setting of your grater.
- When the water is boiling, add the salt. (This is a lot less than what you would normally use to salt the water because Pecorino Romano is salty, but this step is needed.)
- Add the pasta and stir regularly so the pasta doesn’t stick together. Cook until al dente.
- Heat up a large serving bowl in the microwave or over the top of the boiling pasta. This is essential in getting the creamy consistency.
- Scoop out the pasta with a spaghetti fork and put into the warm bowl, reserving the cooking water in the pot the pasta was cooked in.
- Toss the pasta by gradually adding a little pecorino cheese and a little cooking water until all the cheese is used and you have a creamy consistency. (If it is too dry add more water, if it is too wet, add more cheese).
- Season with a generous amount of pepper.