When in Rome, do as the Romans do. As regards eating as the Romans do! Well, this suggestion It has presented me with no problems whatsoever and quite simply an extraordinary amount of pleasure. It was a habit embraced as enthusiasticlly as you would a long lost cousin who has just presented you wth a cheque for the family fortune and the key to a wine cellar full of 2005 Clos St Jean Chateauneuf-du-pape. Adapting to he Roman way of life on the other hand! Well that has been slightly more problematic. But that’s another very long post, and one I will leave to someone else.
Back to the eating part. One of the things Romans do with unbridled enthusiasm is eat Tagliolini cacio and pepe.
This is one of the stunningly simple, delicious ways the Romans enjoy their pasta. It’s about as simple as it gets, right up there with aglio, olio e peperoncino or burro e parmigiano. The name says it all, tagiolini ( also known as tonnarelli in Rome) tossed with cacio – which is simply another name for cheese, which in this case happens to be salty, piquant Pecorino Romano – and plenty of pepe, freshly ground black pepper. That’s it, nothing else, no butter, no oil, no lardo, nothing fancy or clever, just Tagliolini cacio e pepe.
Now, before you dismiss the above plate as boring or unimaginative, before you rush off to find some roasted vegetable, balsamic vinegar reduction, shaved parmesan carnival on a plate, I urge you to try this just once, you might just end up feeling rather Roman in your enthusiasm.
Not many ingredients for this, so they had better be top-notch. First up some good fresh tagliolini/tonnarelli.
Tagliare means cut in Italian so like tagliatelle, tagliolini (tonnarelli) is a particular cut of a sheet of fresh egg pasta which has been folded and cut to a specific width. As you can see tagliolini is a thinner cut than the ribbons of tagliatelle and just a little thicker than spaghetti. I bought this handsome little pile from the pasta shop in Testaccio this morning, they cut the sheets while I waited, content to admire the ravioli and tortellini and enjoy some menu planning for the week.
Next the pecorino romano, nothing else will do, get the nicest piece you can.
This distinctive sheep’s milk cheese with its black waxy casing is much-loved by the Romans. It is traditionally aged for 6 months to a year, and used as a grating cheese. Its strong salty flavour and piquancy go well with the robust local cuisine, dishes such as Buccatini al’amatriciana, Spaghetti alla carbonara, Trippa alla romana and of course this particular dish. When it’s young and less pungent it makes a good table cheese, accompanied a juicy, sweet, ripe pear or in rough chunks with the first tender spring broad beans of the year eaten straight from the pod.
Other ingredients, well, some good freshly, coarsely ground black pepper is key – no old, I have been sitting in this grinder for a long time or talcum powder fine dusty stuff makes the grade – and water.
Despite the simplicity of this dish you would not believe the amount of advice, the ‘my mamma makes the best tagliolini cacio e pepe in the world and her secret is this……..’ comments I have received. But then, I have chosen to live in Italy and I do invite advice so I can only blame myself for the information overload. Advice was duly noted and a fair bit of experimenting ensued. I think I have found the best way, for now, to interpret this pasta.
The key to the dish is: while you are cooking your pasta until al dente you make an emulsion in a warm serving dish of grated pecorino, pepper and a small ladleful of the water the pasta is cooking in. You will see a little bit of magic as the starchy water from the pasta and the cheese transform into a simple creamy sauce in which you can toss the pasta before serving it up sprinkled with yet more pecorino and another grinds of pepper.
Some people do add oil and butter to this dish, but I was advised the fat content prevents the joyful clinging of the emulsion and the grated pecorino to the tagliolini. If you would really like some good olive oil or even better a knob of butter I suggest you add it at the end on top of the grated pecorino and stir it in accordingly.
Tagliolini/Tonnarelli cacio e pepe or Tagliolini with pecorino and black pepper
- 200g fresh tagliolini/tonnerelli
- 100g freshly grated pecorino romano
- freshly, coarsely ground black pepper
- more grated pecorino and pepper to serve.
Bring a large pan of fresh water to a fast boil and salt it generously.
Grate the pecorino and get a warm serving bowl ready. Tip the cheese in the bowl and grate over plenty of black pepper.
Drop the pasta in the boiling water and set your timer, my fresh pasta only takes about 3 and a half minutes. When the pasta is about a minute away from being ready, scoop out a small ladelful of cooking water and add it to the cheese and pepper, using a fork quickly whisk into a creamy emulsion.
Once the pasta has reached al dente perfection quickly drain it, then tip it into the serving bowl along with the creamy sauce, Toss everything together and divide between your serving bowls.
Sprinkle over the extra freshly grated pecorino and grind over more pepper.
Serve straight away