The problem with habit number one two years ago, way back when I was living in my beautiful pink-walled Montreal apartment, was that save for eggs, plain yogurt, and a head of cauliflower, my refrigerator shelves were routinely bare.
True to habit when I returned home in boozy splendor that Saturday I marched straight toward to the kitchen, but I couldn't face the sadness that was my empty refrigerator. Cauliflower wasn't really going satiate my late-night hankering for something carby and delicious. My pantry was better equipped than my fridge. I had pasta, and a plan - simple as could be, and outrageously satisfying.
Prancing around the stove in my skivvies I waited for heavily salted water to boil in the smallest pot, the one usually reserved for boiling a single egg. My supplies lay ready in waiting: penne, grated Parmesan, and olive oil. A little too soon, I drained the water, returned the pasta to its pot, sprinkled it with olive oil, and then buried it lovingly with cheese. A meal fit for a four-year-old, it was messy, uncouth, and utterly basic, but it had the makings of a wonderful dish.
After that night I made late-night-undercooked-pasta-dredged-with-an-unhealthy-amount-of-cheese several times, all in similar situations. Never had I thought to jazz it up and serve it as something legitimate. The pasta dishes I was used to were much more adorned. This was a guilty pleasure, not a meal. You can only imagine my thrill, then, when I read an article on "Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe," or Cheese and Pepper Spaghetti and was inspired to think otherwise.
It's pretty much as it sounds - no frills, lots of thrills, and lots of cheese. As the type of person who dips a sampling of plain pasta into parmesan before proceeding with the recipe, cacio e pepe is one of the most decadent dishes around. Each ingredient shines and works in lovely cooperation to create something special. I smile as I eat this.
Alone for dinner the other night for the first time in a long time, I toyed with ideas of takeout and leftovers, but the simple satisfaction of cacio e pepe called to me and there was no resisting.
Though alone, I made it properly. The days of undercooked pasta and shameless cheesing are in the past (though I encourage you to add your cheese generously).
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
A perfect meal for one. Easily doubled or quadrupled for more. A definite pleaser.
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 lb dried spaghetti
1/4 tbsp butter
1 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
ground black pepper
Cook spaghetti in well-salted water to your al dente tastes in a large, wide-bottomed pot. When cooked, drain the pasta, reserving its cooking water.
Dry out your pot, and heat the olive oil in it over high heat until it is almost smoking. Carefully, add drained spaghetti and 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water. This will splatter everywhere.
Add butter, 3/4 of the cheese, and a generous amount of pepper. Toss with tongs or mix with a fork. Taste, adding more cheese, pepper, pasta water, or salt if desired.
Serve immediately, sprinkling with the remaining cheese and an extra grind or two of black pepper.