Voatsiperifery might not be the first pepper you think of when it comes to the Roman pasta dish, cacio e pepe, but the aromatic, citrus and fresh, herbal notes add lift and light to the dish. Cacio e pepe looks deceptively simple, with its use of only three ingredients, but it can be frustratingly easy to get wrong. There is a fine line between creamy, peppery richness and a bowl of soggy spaghetti knotted with black pepper and clumps of cheese.
After taking some lessons from a bona fide Roman cook, we’re confident this recipe cracks it. As long as you use high quality Pecorino Romano, the rest is simply a matter of technique; just keep the pasta moving and don’t be scared about slopping in that starchy pasta water.
Why does my cacio e pepe clump?
There are three essentials you need to make a smooth sauce for cacio e pepe:
- Finely grated cheese
- Hot water
If one of these elements is missing, it can lead to a clumpy sauce. Using coarsely grated cheese instead of finely grated cheese takes longer to melt, and also clings to the spaghetti strands, rather than creating a smooth emulsion with the water.
For our recipe, we’ve mixed the water with grated cheese first to create a paste. This smoother mixture is easier to toss through the pasta, resulting in a silkier sauce.
Hot water is essential as this helps melt the cheese. If the water is cold, or cools quickly, it won’t give the cheese enough time to melt. Using reserved starchy pasta water helps to thicken the sauce, so always keep a small jugful of this back.
Finally, speed. When the pasta is cooked, you need to act as quickly as possible to toss in the cheese and water mixture. If you don’t, or if you don’t keep the pan moving, the pasta and sauce will settle and clump together.
When you’ve made your cacio e pepe, it’s best to eat it straight away to prevent the sauce from clumping as it sits and cools.
What's the difference between cacio and formaggio?
Cacio and formaggio are both Italian words for cheese. The two words are interchangeable, and there are no strict rules about their usage, but generally speaking, cacio is used when talking more specifically, about regional, local cheeses, and formaggio is used more generally, about cheeses across the world.
Ingredients for voatsiperifery pepper cacio e pepe Serves: 2
Method for voatsiperifery pepper cacio e pepe
- Finely grate the Pecorino Romano and set aside at room temperature in a bowl while you prepare everything else.
- Roughly crush the voatsiperifery peppercorns in a pestle and mortar, or blitz, briefly, to a craggy rubble in a spice grinder.
- Bring a pan of generously salted water to the boil, then add the spaghetti/linguine/pici; use the smallest saucepan possible to ensure there will be a good concentration of starch in the cooking water.
- When the pasta is halfway through its cooking time, toast the pepper in a dry pan, until fragrant, then turn the heat down low and add a ladle of pasta water to the frying pan. Allow the pepper to infuse into the water.
- When the pasta is almost al dente, scoop it into the peppery frying pan, using a spaghetti server or tongs - the splashes of excess cooking water will help create the sauce.
- Next, vigorously beat another ladle of pasta water into the bowl of grated pecorino until it has melted and formed a paste. Add the paste to the pasta and toss everything together while shaking the pan – you need to keep everything moving to avoid the cheese clumping.
- Keep tossing until the sauce is creamy and glossy and the pasta is al dente.
- Divide between two bowls and serve immediately, with even more grated Pecorino on top, if you wish.