I’ve always been a fan of black pepper but it’s a long time since I made it best supporting actor in a dish: prawns with black pepper, abundant melted butter and a generous squeeze of lemon, back in my restaurant days in the mid-’80s.
I added another to my short list of pepper-dominated dishes when I came across a beautiful piece of writing about the food and personality of Rome, by Anya von Bremzen in American food magazine Saveur. I urge you to read the essay in full.(tmixpl.us/gtee62) It makes me want to catch the next flight to the Eternal City.
In it, von Bremzen describes a dish that had not previously come my way: Cacio e pepe, or cheese with pepper. “Cacio e pepe is Rome in a pasta bowl,” she writes. “It’s brash (the sting of the pepper, the salty bite of the cheese), gritty (experts insist that you must feel the pepper and cheese grains on your tongue), and a bit challenging (vigorous tossing is required to blend the ingredients without causing the cheese to clump up).”
At first, it did not seem to me to be a dish for the Thermomix, nor does it share the theatre of the Roman version described so eloquently above. But for maximum fragrance, bite and punch I really wanted to make sure the pepper was broken rapidly, and that its redolence could be contained in the butter, oil, and ultimately, the cheese and pasta. The Thermomix bowl, I found, is a perfect partner.
Bucatini is ideal for this dish. As is so often the case, the naming of the pasta refers to its shape; in this case, bucato/bucata means hollow. The dish is worth making just to be an Italian waiter for the moment, serving the family cacio e pepe, with the tongue rolling around as you describe the pasta … BU-CAA-TEEE-NEE.
This is not just a one-trick pony: other pasta options are really nothing more than what’s in the cupboard. You can use fusilli, and you can use spaghettini, or spaghetti alla chitarra, or even orecchiette. Really, it’s about a pasta shape that can grab the pepper, and make the pepper and cheese co-stars.