Meager ingredients can make for a magical meal

Almost apologetically, I listed dry pasta — of any and all types — among pantry essentials in my most recent column and podcast.

It’s that persistent persecution, that dogmatic demonization, of carbohydrates that gives me reason to second-guess my recommendation. And then I always come around to the inevitable: Why?

Sure, pasta isn’t as wholesome as eating a whole grain. But it fills my stomach much more quickly when I haven’t planned ahead. Heck, sometimes I purposely skip a more nutritious meal made for my kids to wait until they’re in bed when I can kick back with a big plate of pasta and glass of red wine.

Carbonara, richly flavored with pork fat and egg, is a go-to. In the summer, it’s spaghetti, linguine or angel hair tossed with sun-warmed tomatoes and barely sautéed garlic, maybe a few shreds of basil. Nothing complicated for my palate’s purest of pleasures.

Even in the leanest of times, I can at least count on a rind of Parmesan in the fridge, maybe pecorino or asiago, too. And when I can only muster the barest effort to put pasta on a plate, there’s cacio e pepe, Rome’s signature spin on spaghetti.

Make no mistake: This is not cooked noodles topped with oil and grated cheese. This is an alchemical emulsion of oil and starch suspending the toasted pepper fragments. The technique conjures a sauce from the cheese, rather than leaving it stubbornly clinging to the pasta and sticking to the bottom and sides of the bowl.

This is how meager ingredients become a magical meal. Particularly with a glass of red wine.  

Tribune News Service photo

Cacio e Pepe

6 ounces dry spaghetti

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons freshly, coarsely ground black pepper

3/4 cup freshly, finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/3 cup freshly, finely grated pecorino

Heat a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Stir in the spaghetti, lower heat a bit and cook until almost tender-but-firm (say, 1 minute less than the package suggests). While pasta is cooking, set a large serving bowl over pot to warm for a minute or two. Scoop out 1 cup cooking water. Drain pasta.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Scatter in the pepper and toast, swirling pan, until fragrant, for about 30 seconds. Careful of spatter, pour in 1/2 cup cooking water, boil for 1 minute. Slide in cooked spaghetti and toss with tongs to coat each strand.

Heap pasta into warmed bowl. Sprinkle on half the cheese; toss. Sprinkle on remaining cheese and toss until pasta is coated in creamy sauce, drizzling in a little more cooking water, if needed. Cover and let rest for 1 minute. Toss. Taste for salt (it won’t need much). Twirl a nest of pasta onto each of 2 plates. Enjoy.

Makes 2 servings.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  • Categories

  • Archives