By Tim O’Connor
We play a game in the kitchen called “what if?” Last week it was, what if you could eat only one thing for the rest of your life?
Everyone chose a simple dish, such as tortillas with rice and beans, or a grilled cheese or Turkey club sandwich, or eggs with hot sauce. This makes sense, because if you’re eating only one thing for the rest of your life and it’s too extravagant, you’ll get tired of it quickly. It’s the simple food that we enjoy eating over and over again, and I chose was cacio a pepe, which is pasta, pepper, parmesan and butter — basically a fancy but simple mac and cheese.
Cacio a pepe is not to be confused with carbonara, which is similar but made with eggs, and grabs all the fame. Cacio a pepe is my go-to dish at least once a week. It’s easy when you’re hungry and want to be satisfied quickly. It’s also a great little wee-hours-after-the-bar pasta, though, of course, I can’t condone such behaviour.
Traditionally it’s made with spaghetti, and I love slurping up those noodles, but you can use whatever pasta you have on hand.
Step one is to heat olive oil in a pan, and then toast the pepper. I coat the bottom of the pan with freshly ground pepper, but you do you. I often add a ton of garlic at this point, because that’s the kind of boy I am.
You don’t want the parmesan to stick to the pan or get clumpy, so make sure the cheese is finely grated and the pan isn’t too hot. I remove the pan from heat once I’m ready to add the cooked pasta and a bit of pasta water, and then I add the butter and cheese and let the residual heat of the pasta and pan do the melting. This makes for a luxuriously creamy sauce.
It’s simple and classic, but go ahead and vary it. I’ve thrown in yesterday’s roast chicken, or chopped parsley, or even broccoli. Once I made it with parmesan, pecorino and grana padano, the three famous, hard Italian cheeses, and I was like, “Oh, this is living.”
Make it your way and you’ll think it’s the best thing you’ve ever made.
Cacio a pepe
Grate parmesan beforehand and grate a lot!
- Bring water to boil, add pasta.
- Heat pan on medium, toast fresh-cracked pepper in pan, add 2- 3 chopped garlic cloves (optional).
- When pasta is ready, remove pan from heat.
- Remove pasta from water (saving liquid), place in warm pan with a healthy nug of butter, toss until butter starts to melt and completely coat pasta.
- Add a small bit of pasta water and half the parm, toss to make creamy sauce. Add a bit more water – not too much at a time, so it doesn’t get too loose – and remaining parm.
Tim O’Connor grew up in the Glebe and is head chef at Flora Hall Brewing.