In a medium nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the coarsely ground black pepper. Stir until the crushed black pepper is fragrant and just beginning to sizzle. Turn off the heat and leave it to rest while you cook the pasta.
Bring a large saucepan of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and set a timer for HALF the cooking time indicated on the packaging. When the cooking time is done, use kitchen tongs to transfer the pasta to the skillet with the black pepper. DO NOT DISCARD THE PASTA WATER.
Add 1 cup of the pasta water to the skillet with the pasta and black pepper. Turn the heat back on to medium-high. Once the water simmers, turn the heat back down to medium. Keep cooking the pasta, stirring frequently, for the remaining cooking time, as indicated by the manufacturer. (i.e. If the total cooking time is 12 minutes and you cooked the pasta for 6 minutes at the previous step, then you need to keep cooking the pasta for 6 minutes more in the skillet.)The pasta should always be swimming in water but not be submerged in it. Add more pasta water as needed.
Taste a strand of the pasta. If it still tastes raw inside, keep cooking for a few more minutes. If it’s al dente (tender with a firm bite), you can start adding the cheese. The key to creating a smooth sauce is to add the cheese VERY SLOWLY, one generous pinch sprinkled all over the surface of the pasta at a time. Stir vigorously with a spatula until the cheese is incorporated, then add more. There should always be enough liquid to melt the cheese in, and that liquid should always be simmering, which helps melt and incorporate the cheese. Keep adding a bit more pasta water as needed, but don’t drown the pasta or your sauce will be too watery.
The process to incorporate the cheese should take about 2 minutes. When you’re done adding the cheese, turn off the heat, give the pasta one last good stir and divide between warm bowls. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper, and serve at once.
Make sure you’re ready to enjoy Cacio e Pepe right when it's done: The cheese sauce will quickly thicken and “set” as it sits, so this is a dish that waits for no one.
NOTE: The traditional pasta used for Cacio e Pepe is Spaghetti alla Chitarra (also called tonnarelli). It’s a thick, long pasta with a square shape. This type of pasta can be a bit harder to find in regular grocery stores, but it’s readily available in Italian stores and online.You can also use spaghetti—but not spaghettini, because you need a slender but thick pasta that cooks in 12 to 14 minutes. Linguine and bucatini also work.It's best to use bronze-cut pasta because the rough surface of this type of pasta allows the cheese sauce to perfectly adhere to it. Bronze-cut + slow-dried pasta is even better, because this type of pasta releases more starch, creating a creamier, silkier sauce.Read all my tips about picking the right pasta for making perfect Cacio e Pepe right here.
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