One of Rome’s iconic dishes is spaghetti cacio e pepe. It’s deceptively simple with few ingredients – spaghetti, pecorino romano cheese, cracked blacked pepper and pasta water. I’ve eaten it at several places in Rome, but no where prepared better than at Roma Sparita, a restaurant in Trastevere. If the weather is warm, sit outdoors in the piazza overlooking the beautiful church of Santa Cecelia.
The pasta arrives at your table heaped in a frico – a bowl made from grana padano or parmigiano cheese. Making a frico is easier than it seems – follow the directions here. But making a good cacio e pepe is not as easy it you’d think. You could end up with a gloppy, gooey mess, as I did on my first try. Or you could end up with a sublime creation, like the one at Roma Sparita. So I thought I’d ask the chef himself — Maria Biondi — who came out and told me how Anthony Bourdain swooned over the dish while filming an episode of “No Reservations.” Biondi said the episode was all on YouTube.
But I later found out, it’s not. Unfortunately, the episode has been pulled from YouTube, so I couldn’t see the preparation. When I called the restaurant to tell them, I spoke to Ugo, the owner, who gave me the list of ingredients, noting that Roma Sparita uses a little bit of butter to the sauce, a most nontraditional addition. Still no detailed measurements, though, but Kathy at Food Lover’s Odyssey, has an excellent post abut the recipe, including a recipe she recreated after an invitation to the restaurant’s kitchen to see the dish made. Check it out on her blog.
|photo courtesy of Food Lover’s Odyssey|
The rest of the meal was just as delicious as the pasta, starting with battered and fried zucchini flowers, prepared in the traditional way — stuffed with mozzarella cheese and a touch of anchovy. You’ll find directions here on making them here.
I was feeling quite full after the pasta, and decided to skip a second course. After seeing the giant portion of osso buco at the table next to mine, I was glad I held off. But there was still enough room for some dessert – a warm apple crostata served with gelato. Perfetto!
OK, now for the giveaway. Who wants a cookbook featuring classic Roman recipes? Just leave a comment at the end of this blog (not in an email), with some way (blog url or email address) for me to contact you if your name is picked in the random drawing.
Cacio e Pepe alla Roma Sparita
(Serves 2 people)
Half pound spaghetti
About 6 cups well-salted boiling water
For the “sauce”:
About 1 1/2 cups (2 large ladles) boiling pasta water
1 tablespoon freshly, coarsely grated pepper, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons butter
1 3/4 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for garnish
For the Parmesan bowl:
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Regiano cheese
To make the Parmesan bowl, spread a very thin layer of the cheese onto a slightly warmed non-stick pan in the form of a circle, about six inches in diameter. (The cheese should slowly start to melt when you place it into the pan.) Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling. Using a spatula, slide the cheese circle out of the pan and onto a turned over bowl. (To create a pretty bowl like that at Roma Sparita, it’s best to use a mold/bowl that’s not higher than 2 inches, letting the excess fan out with creases at the edges.) Use tongs to press the cheese, only while it’s hot, down or out, as you like. Cool while you make the pasta.
Cook the pasta according to the directions for that brand. When the pasta is not quite cooked, about 3 minutes before you would normally take it out of the water, add the boiling pasta water, the butter and the pepper to a hot saute pan. Add the drained pasta to the pan and toss through the water mixture until the pasta absorbs almost all of the water. Remove from the heat, and add the grated cheese to the pasta. Quickly stir the cheese into the pasta. Place into the Parmesan cup and garnish with more grated cheese and freshly grated pepper, to taste.