When we visited Rome a few weeks ago, the biggest thing for Magnus was not the crispy thin-crust pizza with fluffy Mozzarella floating like clouds atop deep red sauce, nor the pasta pomodoro, tangy and sweet in the way only Italians know how to make it. It was not the fresh pasta al pesto, which he usually loves. Not even the soft gelattos, proudly displayed in rows and rows of colors, flavors and combinations imaginable to mankind behind glossy glass casings in stores that looked like mid-summer tivoli stands.
It was none of those.
For him it was the pasta cacio e pepe.
This down the basics, three ingredients plus pasta – an ode to poor man’s food that is a true classic of Roman fare. And perfect every time. He could not get enough of it – even though I know it was oftentimes too peppery spicy for him. He would still insist on eating it and chug down water to cool down his burning tongue. And then go for some more.
The pasta does not look like much. It doesn’t even look like there is anything else on the plate other than pasta.But it is a right combination of subtle flavors with a peppery kick.
So when we came home, we made it but without the crushed pepper for Magnus.
Reasonably, he ate even more of it without them.
Pasta al Cacio e Pepe
400 g spagetti (whole wheat if possible)
1 tablspoon salt
1 ½ cups grated peconrini pepato cheese
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons flaxseed meal
2 teaspoons flax oil
Optional:2 tablespoons crushed black pepper
Salt and pepper to taste, for serving
1. Bring a large bowl of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt.
2. Add pasta and cook following the instructions on the package, about 9-11 minutes. It should be al dente, meaning hard in the center, and not overcooked and completely soft.
3. When the pasta is almost done, prepare a large flat pan on the stove next to the boiling pasta. Head the pan to medium and add a ladle (about 5 tablespoons) of the cooking water from the pasta. When the liquid is heated and begins to bubble, add the cheese, butter and the olive. Mix well. Add the crushed pepper if desired – I leave it out, as it is a bit too much for my son. You can add it later when serving to the adults.
4. Scoop out the pasta with a tongue or meshed ladle – you don’t want to drain the pasta – you need to discard the cooking liquid, as it will be the foundation for the sauce.
4. Heat the pan to medium and add the pasta and toss well. Salt and pepper to taste, drizzle the flax oil and sprinkle the flaxseed meal and serve immediately