Soon, extremely soon, I’m going to tell you more about our 12 days in Andalucía but before that, before summer is truly over, before I start thinking about cooking more complex meals again, before I even consider turning on the oven again, I wanted to tell you that this summer was the year I finally figured out how to make cacio e pepe, one of my favorite pastas, as good at you’d have in Rome, and we cannot let the summer end until you do too.
Huh? Deb, you wrote about it years ago, in 2011. But the recipe always bothered me, and the reason is written out right in it: authentic cacio e pepe contains only three sauce ingredients: pecorino romano (this is the cacio, the cheese), black pepper (this is the pepe, ground to your desired texture, often toasted first if you’re going for extra flavor), and pasta, plus splashes of the pasta’s hot starchy cooking water to form a sauce. It doesn’t contain oil, butter, cream, flour, cornstarch or any other binders. The trouble begins when you try to merge/coalesce/magic together water and cheese into an emulsified, creamy sauce. Ever tried to mix oil and water? In my kitchen, it goes about as well as you might imagine.
Frustrated in 2011, I added a little cream and butter* to make it work. But I never “finished” the recipe in my mind. Since then, I have tried — this is barely an understatement — every single 3-ingredient technique on the internet and in cookbooks I could track down, I have watched videos completely in Italian to try to glom how they do it, walked into the kitchen, repeated their exact steps, and failed every time. I try about 6 times a year. It’s been 7 years. I never, ever succeed in magic-ing pasta water and cheese into a smooth sauce. The cheese melts before it glues itself to the noodles, cementing itself instead to the pot, the bowl, the tongs, the stuff of dishwashing dread. I imagine this sounds familiar to others.
When someone emailed me (hi, Annie!) earlier this summer and told me about Flavio de Maio’s (of the restaurant Flavio Velavevodetto in Rome) method as shared by tour guide and Roman cooking expert Elizabeth Minchilli on her site, I was fresh off my latest cacio flop and thanked her, but expressed my doubt that this would be This One. That was 2:12pm. At 6:12pm, I sent her a photo of our dinner and told her she’d changed my life, and I hope yours, possibly in the next 20 minutes.
* it was good enough for Batali, so it was good enough for me, I rationalized in 2011; what different times those were
I wrote a thing: I wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times about a favorite subject — cooking and why it’s terrible and you should never do it. Here’s the link. I hope you read, uh, to the end.
One year ago: Corn Chowder with Chile, Lime and Cotija
Two years ago: Burrata with Lentils and Basil Vinaigrette and Eggplant Parmesan Melts and Even More Perfect Blueberry Muffins
Three years ago: Angel Hair Pasta with Raw Tomato Sauce and Crispy Peach Cobbler
Four years ago: Smoky Eggplant Dip and Strawberries and Cream with Graham Crumbles
Five years ago: Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes and Almond-Crisped Peaches and Key Lime Popsicles
Six years ago: Mediterranean Baked Feta with Tomatoes and Leek, Chard, and Corn Flatbread
Seven years ago: Zucchini Fritters and Naked Tomato Sauce
Eight years ago: Sweet Corn Pancakes, Eggplant Salad Toasts and Perfect Blueberry Muffins
Nine years ago: Plum Kuchen, Lighter, Airy Pound Cake, Summer Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad and Lobster Rolls
Ten years ago: How to Poach an Egg, Smitten Kitchen-Style, Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake, and Slow-Roasted Tomatoes
Eleven years ago: Double Chocolate Torte and Spicy Soba Noodles with Shiitakes
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Quick, Essential Stovetop Mac-and-Cheese
1.5 Years Ago: Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes and Pomegranate Grapefruit Paloma
2.5 Years Ago: Belgian Brownie Cakelets and Broccoli Melts
3.5 Years Ago: Pecan Sticky Buns and Perfect Corn Muffins
4.5 Years Ago: Stuck-Pot Rice with Lentils and Yogurt and Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew