Cacio e Pepe.
Cacio e Pepe.
Image: Dion Govender

With a coterie of kids ranging from three to 12 years of age, evenings at Casa Govender is a mixture of organised chaos and dancing. We dance a lot in our home. Well, I dance and everyone points and laughs. My wife and I have fast-paced careers, and with extramural school activities, pick-ups and drop-offs, ballet, swimming and homework added to the mix, we’re pretty much beat when it comes to rustling up dinner. We have a pretty good system in place, my wife baths and dresses the little ones in their pjs (we’re currently going through a unicorn phase) while I cook before we all sit down for dinner at the table.

As a side note, on the best days, I feel like we’re stumbling through parenting. It’s tough. Sitting around our table for a meal has been our most significant parenting win. This intentional time allows us to catch up and checkin. It’s a little parenting win, and if you’re a parent, you know you take every win you get.

Crucial to keeping the wheels turning are simple, quick and delicious dinners. I keep an arsenal of no-fuss recipes at the ready.  

Cacio e Pepe is my go-to dish when we want a fast dinner that consistently delivers on the flavour. It’s also a dish served when everyone is seated and should be enjoyed straight away. Don’t let the simplicity deter you — it’s precisely this factor that makes this classic Italian dish a winner. This Roman recipe is Italy’s oldest pasta dish that translated simply means cheese and pepper. For centuries a favourite meal for shepherds due to the ease of carrying dried pasta, pepper and cheese. These days it’s an opportunity for chefs to highlight premium quality ingredients and skills. Though you might be tempted, fight back the urge to throw any cream or butter into this dish, I have heard that a nonna’s heart shatters into a million pieces every time you do that.   

The simplicity of this four-ingredient dish means there is no place to hide low-quality ingredients, so get the best you can find. Pecorino Romano is a hard sheep’s milk cheese that is off-white in colour with a lovely saltiness and umami. Different from Parmigiano Reggiano — a harder cow’s milk cheese with an often nutty flavour and golden hue. 

Find a rough-surfaced dry pasta that will help the sauce adhere and add to the al dente or “to the tooth”. The coarse surface is achieved when quality pasta dough made from 100% durum wheat is extruded through bronze dies, giving the eating experience an uncanny satisfaction. 

Ingredients

Serves 4

  • 1 pack of dry pasta — spaghetti or bucatini
  • 1 cup of finely gratedPecorino Romano
  • 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 cup of pasta water

Method

In a large pot, bring heavily salted water up to a boil.

Add a pack of dry pasta and stir occasionally, and cook according to the time on the pack. Cook until 80% done. 

In a large pan, add 1 tsp of freshly cracked black pepper and turn up the heat to medium. As soon as you smell the pepper, add half a cup of the pasta water.

In a separate bowl, add the cup of finely grated pecorino and half a cup of the pasta water, whisk vigorously till you get a smooth sauce; add a tablespoon or two of water if you find it a bit thick.

The water in the pan would have mostly cooked off. Add the pasta and sauce you just made. Toss to coat.

Serve immediately with an extra grating of pecorino and a glass of something chilled that stands up to the pepper. I had a pinot noir.

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