On our last trip to Rome, Manu and I were determined to eat our two favorite pasta dishes in Roman cuisine: Bucatini all'Amatriciana and Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe. Much like Rome itself, both are equally as decadent yet unpretentious.
Oh my god, this pasta. Cacio e Pepe is an institution in Rome, and the entire recipe is in its name: cheese and pepper. The spaghetti literally swims in the cheese, which after being thoroughly mixed with the pasta cooking liquid turns into a cream that I wouldn't mind taking a bath in. The pepper makes it and gives it a kick to balance the saltyness of the cheese. Basically an Italian mac n' cheese that trumps any other I've ever had!
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
1/2 pound spaghetti or bucatini (the thicker the better)
3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano (you can also use Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, or a mix of the three)
2 tbs butter or olive oil
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup pasta cooking water. Meanwhile, melt butter or oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook, swirling pan, until toasted, about 1 minute. Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to skillet and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining butter or oil. Reduce heat to low and add grated cheese, stirring and tossing with tongs until melted. Remove pan from heat; add Pecorino, stirring and tossing until cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta, and pasta is al dente. (Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry.) Transfer pasta to warm bowls and serve.
(slightly adapted from this recipe)
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. thinly sliced guanciale, pancetta, or chopped unsmoked bacon
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic
1 28-oz. can peeled tomatoes with juices, crushed by hand
12 oz. dried bucatini or spaghetti
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add guanciale and sauté until crisp and golden, about 4 minutes. Add pepper flakes and black pepper; stir for 10 seconds. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring often, until soft, about 8 minutes. Add tomatoes, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 2 minutes before al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water.
Add drained pasta to sauce in skillet (remove garlic clove) and toss vigorously with tongs to coat. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water and cook until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes. (Add a little pasta water if sauce is too dry.) Stir in cheese and transfer pasta to warmed bowls.
P.S. Another classic Roman recipe to have under your belt: Carbonara!