December 8, 2019
Thank you Alison Roman. I mean it. I often think about adopting more of a vegetarian lifestyle but always imagine I'll really be missing out on something. With these kinds of recipes, I would be missing nothing and gaining everything. Cacio e pepe is a traditional Italian pasta dish with so few ingredients, pecorino romano cheese, black pepper, and pasta, that one would think, meh, what's there to be so excited about? Get excited, because when made right, it is delicious. And it's easy to make it wrong. The trick is creating a smooth and silky sauce that the pasta just barely clings to.
Alison creates a riff on this sauce using a "risotto'ish" style cooking method. She suggests using fregola, a tiny round pasta from Sardinia, Italy, Israeli couscous, or any other small pasta shape. I had whole wheat couscous on hand but next time I will try it with fregola. This would be an amazing accompaniment to any meat or fish dish. I kept it all vegetarian friendly and roasted up some cauliflower, also from Alison Roman. (Recipe to follow)
4 T unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
2 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 C fregola, Israeli couscous, or other small pasta (about 1 lb)
salt and pepper
5-7 C water
1 C grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese
2 T finely chopped chives
Melt the butter and oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it's a light golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Add the fregola (or couscous or other pasta), season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes.
Add 5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and continue to cook at a steady simmer, stirring frequently, to encourage the releasing of the starch. This helps create that creamy, starchy sauce I was referring to. Once the pasta is cooked yet still a little firm to the bite or "al dente", add your pecorino cheese, add a LOT of black pepper and taste for salt. (It takes about 20 minutes or so for the pasta to be cooked through) It should have the texture of risotto or porridge and still be a little saucy and not too dry. If need be, add a little more water to create that saucy'ness.
Transfer to a serving bowl, top with a drizzle of olive oil, a scattering of pecorino, chopped chives, and some of the roasted cauliflower.
Hard-Roasted Spiced Cauliflower
1 large head cauliflower
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
1 t fennel seeds
1/2 t ground coriander
1/2 t ground turmeric
1/3 C olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 C finely chopped herbs (chives, parsley, mint, etc)
Preheat oven to 450°F.
Break the cauliflower into tiny florets, roughly the size of a large bean.
Combine with the garlic, crushed red pepper, fennel, coriander, turmeric, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place in the oven for 15 minutes, toss to promote even browning, and roast for another 15-20 minutes. You want there to be pieces that are dark and crispy, so don't worry if you see some deep dark brown bits.
Transfer to a serving dish and top with fresh herbs.