Several of my favourite pasta dishes come from Rome (gricia, amatriciana and carbonara), but my favourite of them all is cacio e pepe. Literally: cheese and pepper. So simple and yet so difficult to make! I had to try several times before I could actually prepare it the proper way, without the cheese getting all lumpy and sticky on my plate, but creamy and luscious as it should be.
And yes, I know that a perfect recipe, just like a good team, should never be changed, but… you’ve got to try my version of cacio e pepe with squash. Because it’s the right season and because it’s damn tasty! The saltiness of the pecorino Romano cheese gets mitigated by the sweetness of the oven-roasted squash and that’s a perfect combination.
I’ve used butternut squash (but you can use any type of pumpkin), and square spaghetti (spaghetti quadrati) which are very similar to THE perfect pasta for cacio e pepe: tonnarelli. I love their robust bite which perfectly complements the creaminess of the sauce.
And, of course, the cheese of choice had to be pecorino Romano.
Here a few tricks for making the perfect cacio e pepe:
- while boiling the pasta, put aside a few ladles of cooking water so that it cools off a bit, then use it to prepare the cheese cream. Put the grated pecorino and a generous amount of pepper in a metal bowl (to keep the heat of the pasta when tossing it, pasta cools off really quickly) and add the warm water little by little, mixing vigorously with a wooden spoon. This will allow you to create the perfect cream.
- go easy on the salt in the pasta water: pecorino Romano is already quite salty.
- the pasta has to be very al dente since it will keep on cooking further in the metal bowl once you add more water to create the right creaminess. The extra water you add will be absorbed by the pasta, making it cook further.
- add extra freshly ground pepper and pecorino just before serving.
Spaghetti cacio e pepe con zucca e timo
200 gr. peeled butternut squash
e.v. olive oil
a few thyme sprigs
60 gr. grated pecorino romano
freshly ground black pepper
180-200 gr. spaghetti or other long pasta
Preheat the oven to 175°C.
Dice the squash or pumpkin and lay it on an oven dish lined with baking parchment.
Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add a few sprigs of thyme and roast in the oven for about 15-20 minutes or until tender. Keep aside.
In the meantime, bring a big pot of water to the boil, add some salt and the pasta. Stir well.
Put the cheese and plenty of ground pepper in a metal bowl and add a bit of the cooking water after you’ve let it cool a bit. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon and keep on adding more water until you obtain a silky cream.
Once the pasta is al dente, remove it from the pan and add it to the cream. Toss and add a little bit more of the reserved water for the perfect creaminess.
Serve immediately with the roasted squash plus some extra ground black pepper and pecorino.