Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Pepper

As you guys read this, we are probably already up and on our way to Providence. It was an early start (chances of seeing the sun rise: very high) because today Shane is running in the Cox Sports Marathon. I think it will be his 5th marathon, and his 3rd year participating in this race! As a spectator, this is probably my favorite of all the marathons and triathlons Shane’s done. For starters, it’s only 15 minutes or so from our house so we don’t have to add an hour plus drive to a day that already begins plenty early. But more importantly, I very much enjoy the set-up of this race; the course is really spectator-friendly. Every year, Shane’s parents and I see him off at the start, then hop in the car and drive to a ton of locations along the course where we can continue to cheer him on. I know he enjoys the extra encouragement, and it makes the race more fun for us too! The weather even looks like it’ll be nice, so it should be a good day :)

Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Pepper

As he usually does on the night before a race, Shane requested pasta for dinner. It was perfect timing actually as I’ve had this spaghetti with cheese and pepper on the menu for weeks and keep pushing it back. It was high time to cross this one off the to-do list. There are apparently a ton of variations on this dish but one thing they all seem to have in common is simplicity – aside from salt and pepper, there are only 3 or 4 ingredients in most recipes. After looking at several, I went with the one from Cook’s Illustrated because they rarely disappoint me.

This dish comes together in no time at all. You cook the pasta, reserving some of the starchy cooking water, which you then use to create the sauce along with grated Pecorino Romano, a few tablespoons of heavy cream, a little bit of olive oil, and a not insignificant amount of black pepper. The sauce seemed thin to me as I whisked it up, but once I tossed it with the hot pasta, it thickened and coated it perfectly! I think it’s the first time I’ve ever bought Pecorino Romano, but it won’t be the last. It was salty and sharp, and I liked it a lot more than the Parmigiano Reggiano I usually choose to grate over my pasta. The flavor of the black pepper is prominent, I was surprised (in a good way) by just how spicy the dish was. I’m kind of kicking myself for having put this one off for so long, I can definitely see it becoming a weeknight favorite. Fingers crossed it’s an effective fuel for today’s race!

Spahgetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper (Cacio e Pepe)
from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2011

4 oz Pecorino Romano, grated fine, plus extra for serving
1 lb spaghetti
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive-oil
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

Add the grated cheese to a medium heatproof bowl. Set a colander over a large heatproof bowl. Set both aside.

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the spaghetti and the salt, and cook, stirring frequently, according to package directions until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta into the colander (still set over the large bowl – you want to capture and pasta cooking water because you’ll be reserving some). Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water to a measuring cup (you can discard the remaining water). Put the pasta in the now empty bowl.

A little at a time, whisk 1 cup of the pasta cooking water into the grated cheese. Once it’s completely incorporated, add the heavy cream, olive oil and pepper. Whisk until combined – the sauce should be mostly smooth though mine had a few small bits of cheese that weren’t melted completely. (Don’t worry about it too much, those bits will melt in the next step.) Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta, a little at a time, tossing to coat. Once you’ve added all of the sauce, let the pasta rest for about 1 minute, tossing it frequently, and adjusting the consistency with the remaining 1/2 cup of reserved cooking water until it’s to your liking. Serve garnished with extra grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper.