Cheese, pepper and pasta. That’s all this dish is, and it’s as brilliant as it is simple.
Cacio e pepe is a shepherds dish that is extremely popular in Rome. Whilst you’ll often see this dish marked as ‘vegetarian’ on a menu, it isn’t usually because ‘proper’ Cacio e Pepe requires Pecorino Romano, an Italian hard cheese made with animal rennet. In this recipe I’ve substituted that for a vegetarian Italian hard cheese. And since we’re not sticking to tradition, I also added a bit of thyme, because thyme is great.
- Good quality olive oil
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 20g unsalted butter
- 50g vegetarian Italian hard cheese, finely grated
- A small handful of fresh thyme
- Linguine or spaghetti
- Cook pasta until according to instructions on the packaging until it is al dente
- Whilst the pasta is cooking, coarsely grind the peppercorns in a pestle and mortar and strip the tiny leaves off the woody thyme stalks.
- Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and add the black pepper and the thyme. Fry for a couple of minutes, or until fragrant.
- When the pasta is cooked, add two ladle-fulls of the starchy pasta water to the frying pan and stir in the butter.
- Transfer the pasta to the pan, allowing some water to travel with it, and add the cheese and 2 tsps of olive oil. Stir through until the cheese has melted. This might take a little time. You want the cheese, starchy water and fat to create a creamy emulsion, if the consistency isn’t quite right add a little more oil or water.
- When the ‘sauce’ has reached the correct consistency, season with a little salt and a pepper and serve!