What do you say when former Iron Chef Mario Batali says he's a fan of your food blog? How about when he casually invites you to breakfast? If you're food journalists Katie Parla and Kristina Gill, you ask him to write the foreword for your debut cookbook Tasting Rome ($20; amazon.com). The survey of Roman food culture highlights traditional and contemporary dishes alike, proving that you don’t need to parlare italiano to master classics like cacio e pepe. Take it from Parla and Gill, who tapped chef Leonardo Vignoli at from the Roman trattoria Cesare al Casaletto, a favorite Mario Batali’s, and got the scoop on how to make the iconic dish at home. Read on for the full breakdown, then mangia!
Cacio e Pepe di Leonardo Vignoli (Leonardo Vignoli’s Cacio e Pepe)
Serves: 4 to 6
1 lb spaghetti or tonnarelli
2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1½ cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a ladle of pasta cooking water. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste. (Note: According to Vignoli, the secret to a smooth, creamy sauce is speed: Combine the water and Pecorino Romano while the liquid is still hot to avoid clumps.)
3. When the pasta is cooked, use a large strainer to remove it from the cooking water and quickly add it to the sauce in the bowl, keeping the cooking water boiling on the stove. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water a tablespoon or two at a time as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a juicy sauce that completely coats the pasta.
4. Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste.