The One and Only Cacio e Pepe Method You Need
This dish has 3 ingredients. And yet I get more questions about this dish and the witch craft that it is than any other dish I make. So here I am, spilling my secrets. Now I must admit I was taught by a master, I'm not the wizard who thought this up, so I don't deserve all the praise. You have to trust me on this, because there is no cheese clumping here. There is no butter or paste making. None. It's magical. Let's dive in.
Our 3 ingredients here are the pasta itself, and truly I do not have the amounts of any of them:
1) Dried spaghetti: this has to be dried pasta, because fresh pasta cannot hold up to what we're about to do here.
2) Fresh cracked black pepper: this is literally one third of the dish here, so don't use old pepper from a shaker you got in 2015. I like to use pepper in 3 places in this dish, so we need a lot. I like a tablespoon or so of whole black peppercorns in the pasta water, lots of ground black pepper straight to the pasta while we toss it with cheese, and then some crunchier cracked pepper to finish it off. Some pepper grinders have different settings that allow for this, but you can also smash some whole peppercorns in a mortar and pestle.
3) Lots and lots of grated pecorino cheese. Let's say about 3 cups grated cheese for a whole bag of pasta, which is good for about 4-6 people, depending how hungry these people are.
There is one more secret special ingredient, one that you can't necessarily add, and that is the pasta starch. By now (I hope) we all know to save that starchy, salty water because it brings pasta and sauce together into one emulsified, glossy sauce. But in this case, that water is the sauce.
super starchy pasta water, somewhere in the first 5 minutes of cooking.
In order to get even more starch here, we don't boil pasta in a big pot like you're used to. We still have a big pot of boiling salted water (to which I like to add some whole black peppercorns) on the stove, but the pasta isn't going in. The pasta is going into a large skillet that is also on the stove. Instead of putting the pasta in the water, we're putting the water into the pasta. Think about this dish like you would risotto. Slowly but surely, we're adding boiling salty water, never letting the pasta swim too much, but never letting it go dry. Keep stirring so nothing sticks together. This takes about 10 minutes. When it's nice and al dente, start sprinkling in your cheese and cracking in your black pepper and mixing everything. You may need some more boiling water to thin it out because it gets real thick real quick. You also might need a friend to help you out here. When it has all come together, which should only be a minute or so later, give it a taste and make sure it's perfect. Scoop it into bowls and top with that crunchier cracked pepper.
There you have it friends. 3 ingredients, no more than 20 minutes, and now you too are a happy pasta wizard.