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8 & $20: Cacio e Pepe and Chianti

This spaghetti with an exceptionally simple sauce comes together in minutes
A savory Sangiovese cuts through the richness of the cheese and butter with its acidity and tannins.
Photo by: Julie Harans
A savory Sangiovese cuts through the richness of the cheese and butter with its acidity and tannins.

Julie Harans
Posted: March 12, 2019

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.

Sometimes the simplest dishes are the most delicious. A shining example is cacio e pepe, which translates to “cheese and pepper,” and those—plus butter—are pretty much the only ingredients you’ll need to dress this pasta dish. It’s enticingly creamy and rich, with a lingering kick from plenty of freshly cracked black pepper. In just a couple minutes more than it takes to make spaghetti with store-bought sauce, you can prepare this satisfying dish at home.

The trick to this recipe is one that can be applied almost any time you’re making pasta: utilizing the pasta’s cooking water.

Too often neglected and sent down the drain, this water is full of thickening starches that help the sauce fully coat the pasta rather than just sitting on top, transforming quick, home-cooked pastas into restaurant-worthy plates. Also, if prepared correctly, it serves as a seasoning component. The water is your first opportunity to infuse the pasta with flavor, so it should be fairly salty; I like to use about a 1/2 tablespoon per 1 1/2 gallons.

Here you’ll slightly undercook the pasta and finish it in the pan. This gives the ingredients a chance to fully integrate without sending the spaghetti into mushiness—arguably the biggest offense in Italian cooking.

For this classic Italian dish, I turned to a classic Italian grape: Sangiovese. Chianti seemed like the right fit for its savory notes and tart acidity. Poggio Bonelli Chianti Villa Chigi 2016 made an ideal choice, accenting that pleasant funk with its own floral, herby notes. This wine offered enough acidity and slightly drying tannins to counterbalance the butter and cheese, relieving the palate and calling me back for another forkful.

Cacio e Pepe

Pair with a Chianti such as Poggio Bonelli Chianti Villa Chigi 2016.

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 12 minutes
Total time: 17 minutes
Approximate food costs: $15

  • 1/2 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 16 ounces spaghetti
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly cracked pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated pecorino
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil (optional)

1. In a large pot, bring 1 1/2 gallons of water to a boil with 1/2 tablespoon of salt. Add pasta and cook for 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup of the pasta water.

2. Place 3 tablespoons of butter and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter is bubbling, add the pepper and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the pepper is fragrant but the butter has not browned.

3. Add 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to the skillet, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 minute. Add the pasta, both cheeses and remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Toss to coat and simmer for about 2 minutes until the sauce has slightly thickened and the pasta is al dente. If the sauce is too thick, add more of the reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time.

4. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, if desired. Plate pasta and sprinkle with extra Parmesan. Serves 4.

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