Add the cracked pepper to a pan large enough for the cooked pasta and toast for a minute or two over low heat, until fragrant. Set aside and allow to cool while the pasta cooks.
In a separate pan, cook the pasta in a minimal amount of generously salted water for 2 minutes fewer than the packet instructions, then use tongs to drain the pasta into the pan with the toasted pepper. Reserve the pasta cooking water.
Cook over low heat and add most of the finely grated Pecorino Romano to the pan. Allow the cheese to melt for 30 seconds or so, without mixing, then stir vigorously. Add a ladleful of pasta cooking water to the pan and continue to stir until the cheese melts and becomes emulsified. Add more of the pasta cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce.
Plate and finish with the rest of the Pecorino Romano and a crack of black pepper. Eat immediately.
Using toasted pepper brings even more flavour to cacio e pepe.
It’s advisable to grate the cheese as finely as possible to help it incorporate more smoothly, ultimately helping to prevent the cheese from clumping.
Importantly, make sure the pan isn’t too hot when adding the cheese, otherwise the cheese proteins will clump and form a film on the bottom of the pan.
Pecorino Romano is traditional, but Parmigiano Reggiano can be used at a push, if absolutely necessary. Made with sheep’s milk, Pecorino Romano is far sharper, saltier, and more pungent than parmesan.
Cook the pasta in as little water as possible – this will make it particularly starchy, which is necessary for producing a perfectly creamy sauce.
With the ingredients lasting for a long time, it’s worth buying more Pecorino Romano than you’ll need for this cacio e pepe recipe as the dish is a perfect store cupboard recipe: quick to cook, using just a few ingredients.