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Cacio e Pepe


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Does anyone have tips for how to make this successfully? My husband and I love it and our repeated attempts to make it have been failures. Usually we end up with pasta coated in slightly cheesy water with small lumps of cheese, or mostly bare pasta with the cheese in a lump at the bottom and/or stuck on the spoon or sides. We've tried just mixing the cheese  in to wet pasta and adding water, whisking the cheese and water separately to try to make a sauce, and the method where you sort of make a paste of butter, cheese and pepper and add it to the pasta. what are we doing wrong? 

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I've always integrated the cheese into the pasta in the pot, adding some of the water on top.  Honestly, though, I've never gotten the same consistency at home as I could during my brief sojourn at a restaurant.  The water you use to boil 40 servings of pasta is basically a giant coagulant at the end of the night that'll tighten up any sauce, stray chest hairs, minor home repairs, etc.

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It is really a hard pasta to master. It is a touch thing. Make 4 or 5 batches in a row and observe how the cheese melts and make adjustments each batch. 

This dish calls for dry pasta. It needs to be a good quality pasta made from high quality wheat. DeChecco is not the way to go here IMO. Use a top quality pasta like Mancini or Opera. A pasta that when you look at it it is not uniform in color and tone but has straitions. If you do use fresh pasta, it must be pasta that is made with a lot of semolina rimacinata {coarser screening} and a small amount of semolina gran duro. All gran duro and the pasta will be too soft when cooked. We used fresh made with 75% rimacinata. And our pasta water was very starchy. 

Make sure you cacio is not too aged. It needs to be a tender cheese, 6 months old. It should be springy to the touch. 

Make sure pasta water is what you are using. It must be boiling. Don't have too much water in the pot as you need a goodly ratio of pasta starch in the water. If you are making American entree sized portions {3-4 oz dry pasta} you only need 3 quarts of water to cook it.

The easiest technique is to make the sauce in a bowl then toss it with pasta.

Put the cheese in a bowl, shredded on the large holes of a standard box grater. Only make it one order or at most 2 at a time. Use a shit ton of cheese per person. Add the pasta water a ladle full at a time {2-3 oz} and stir until it either emulsifies in or the mixture cools. Then add the next. Once the cheese starts to melt, use less water at a time.  The point is to warm the cheese gently and to get the emulsion started as early as possible. This can take 3 or 4 minutes to do so start well before your pasta is al dente, but long enough so the water is full of starch

Drain your pasta saving a cup of the water and return it to the pan over low heat. If your sauce still has water in it, use a slotted spoon to lift out the melted cheese part and leave the water behind. Twirl the pasta and cheese mix with tongs to mix. You will need to adjust the water, a spoonful at a time. Make sure you get all the cheese off the bottom of the pan. If it is too loose, add cheese a sprinkle at a time. 

When everything is nicely emulsified let it cook for a minute but be careful to check if your emulsion is breaking. If it is, add a teaspoon of water at a time until it is smooth again. Add your pepper late in the process. 

You can do this all in the pan after you drain your pasta but it is more difficult to get everything right.

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6 hours ago, deangold said:

This dish calls for dry pasta.

Dean, I remember you said certain pastas at Dino were dried (by choice) and fresh (by choice) - if I remember, this was one of the dry ones.

What is it about the preparation that makes this necessitate dried pasta?

This is one takeaway I'll always have from you, and I really appreciate it.

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With most fresh pasta, the pasta is softer than with dry. What you are looking for here is to get great binding between the cheese, water and the pasta. Dried pasta has more glue. With fresh, you need to cook it too long for it to express the starch. 

On the other hand, at the Grotto we had too small a kitchen to do both fry and fresh pasta. But our pasta mix was mostle rimacinata, lite on the egg yolk and water, very little semolina gran duro and no 00 fino. So we could use fresh. But that paste is hell to work with and we had a machine and needed to pass it thru the dies three times to get the right springiness vs hardness. It would take an Italian Grandma to make it at home. That plus the rimacinata is very hard to find. 

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