After a frustrating result when I tried to substitute pasta (farfalline for ditalini) in my pasta fagioli, I once again found myself needing to switch one ingredient for another. This time it was cheese. Cacio e Pepe is traditionally prepared with Pecorino Romano. This is a hard cheese from Italy (originating in Rome itself) made from sheep's milk. It has a distinct sharp flavor. When I went to Ralphs the only Romano they had was an American mass-produced brand.
I worried that it would be both waxy and not derived from sheep's milk, but instead cow's milk. (Later research would confirm this hunch.) Instead, I picked up some Reggianito from Argentina, which comes pretty darn close to Parmigiano Regianno. The Regianno substitute would - I hoped - approximate the firm, sharp flavor of the Pecorino Romano.
The result was very satisfying. The cheese substitution may have rendered my dish not authentic, but at least it tasted good. This is another instance where I am reminded that any Italian dish I prepare may require ingredients best purchased from Bay Cities deli.
On another level, the brain work required to find a suitable cheese substitute serves as another example of why I love cooking so much. So often our brains are troubled with problems, anxiety and all kinds of hassles we can't control. It's so refreshing to instead spend time thinking creatively.
Cacio e Pepe
6 ounces (about .4 pounds) Pecorino Romano or Reggianito, divided. (4 ounces finely grated and 2 ounces coarsely grated)
1 pound spaghetti
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons finely-ground black pepper
1. Grate 4 ounces cheese and place in a medium bowl. Place colander in large bowl.
2. Pour 2 quarts water into a pot, add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and bring to boil. Stir frequently and cook until al dente.
3. Drain pasta into colander set in bowl, reserving cooking water. Pour 1 1/2 cups cooking water into liquid measuring cup and discard remainder. Return pasta to now empty bowl.
4. Slowly whisk 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water into finely grated cheese until smooth. Whisk in oil, cream, oil and black pepper.
5. Gradually pour cheese mixture over pasta, tossing to coat. Adjust consistency with remaining 1/2 cup reserved pasta water. Serve and pass coarsely grated cheese separately.
Be sure to stir the pasta frequently so that it doesn't stick to the pot or to itself. If you expect a delay of more than a few minutes between draining the pasta into the colander and service, rinse the pasta in cold water to keep it from cooking further and turning gummy. You can then reheat each portion in a microwave. The dish is best served quickly, though.