Cacio e Pepe: A Store Cupboard Staple by Anna Barnett

16 June 2020

Anna Barnett

Cookbook author, Vogue contributor, Evening Standard columnist and all-round foodie, Anna Barnett, shares with us one of her favourite store cupboard recipes. Using a handful of ingredients you’ll find in most kitchens, her recipe for Cacio e Pepe plays testament to the premise that simplicity really is one of life’s greatest pleasures…

Store cupboard essentials truly are the foundation to most dishes I cook, with a few embellishments here and there. From gorgeous tinned anchovies, to sweet tinned cherry tomatoes, zesty vibrant sumac, dried purple flowering oregano, an endless supply of black peppercorns and of course a plethora of dried pastas. Throw in an indulgently young, grassy extra virgin olive oil and you already have a meal. The refrigerated basics and mainstays are always butter and of course hard cheese, which can elevate and enrich any dish. Simplicity and quality produce really are the ultimate pairing and often resisting temptation to throw everything into a dish can allow appreciation for the most pleasingly modest list of ingredients.

Cacio e Pepe (serves two)

Ingredients

  • 250g pasta of your choice – spaghetti or bucatini work well
  • 250-300ml of water from the cooked pasta
  • Sea salt flakes
  • 1tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic – peeled or crushed, or several leaves of wild garlic. Substitute with several sprigs of thyme or sage, if you prefer.
  • 3tbsp butter
  • 250g Grana Padano Riserva
  • Zest of ¼ lemon
cacio e pepe

Method

Take a shallow dish or deep-frying pan and fill with just enough water to cover your pasta. Add a generous sprinkle of sea salt flakes and bring to the boil before adding your choice of pasta. Cook your pasta for a third of the time advised on the packet as this will continue to cook in your cheese sauce.

Note - When cooking the pasta, the aim is to not use too much water as you want the water to be as starchy as possible. The starch in the water acts as a natural thickener for your cheese sauce. Make sure you don’t throw away any of the water once the pasta is cooked.

In a dry frying pan (that’s large enough to add your cooked pasta to) add your milled peppercorns and lightly toast for 30-40 seconds then reduce the heat and add in two tablespoons of butter (save the third). For a bit of a twist on this dish I like to add in either fresh herbs or a hit of garlic. You can do this by adding in a several sprigs of thyme or sage or by using crushed cloves of garlic and allowing these to cook and flavour the melted butter for a couple of minutes. Remove your herbs or garlic before adding in your pasta water, you can discard or garnish with these.

Once the butter is melted, remove the herbs and add in around 250ml of pasta water or roughly a cup followed by your pasta and scatter over two thirds of your finely grated cheese. Don’t stir, just increase the heat slightly and allow the cheese to melt for around 30-40 seconds, then with a wooden spoon stir your pasta until coated in a lovely, thick sauce. Add in your final tablespoon of butter, stir again until the sauce is glossy and thick. You can increase the heat if the sauce isn’t thick enough.

Serve and garnish with a little extra black pepper, a little lemon zest and an extra scattering of freshly grated Grana Padano Riserva.