I am fond of routines, and food routines are no exception. Plenty examples can be found in traditional Roman cuisine, such as the custom to serve gnocchi on Thursdays. There’s a Roman saying that goes,“Giovedì gnocchi, Venerdi pesce e Sabato trippa” (gnocchi on Thursdays, fish on Fridays, tripe on Saturdays). Its exact origin is unclear; one of the explanations I have heard is that catholics were not supposed to eat meat on Fridays (thus fish), so on Thursdays they would want to have something filling, such as gnocchi; and tripe on Saturdays because that was the day when the animals were slaughtered.
Jeff and I instituted a tradition of our own, namely, Cacio e Pepe Fridays. Cacio e pepper (cheese and pepper pasta) is one of the staples of Roman cuisine, and the epitome of vegetarian comfort food (perfect for Jeff :-)). The other pastas in the Roman “holy trinity” feature guanciale (cured pork jowl): carbonara (egg yolk, guanciale, pepper, and pecorino) and amatriciana (tomato sauce, guanciale, spicy red peppers, and pecorino). Not being a vegetarian, I am especially partial to amatriciana, and it is one of the dishes I chose to have during our first dinner in Rome at Roscioli:
Our tradition involves me driving down to Vace, – an Italian shop in Cleveland Park, incredibly popular on Friday nights, primarily because of their mediocre pizza offerings. I come for their fresh pasta; more specifically, I like using their version of tonnarelli, which is a bit more squared version of spaghetti:
This is a 3-ingredient dish, therefore their quality is pretty important. I think it is critical to have freshly ground pepper from quality peppercorns (I am fond of tellicherries), and freshly shredded cacio (Pecorino Romano – salty, intense, and pleasantly briny). Sometimes I mix it with Cacio di Roma, which is a smoother, younger, creamy textured sheep’s milk cheese, in order to give the dish a more a mild, balanced flavor.
Getting the perfect texture can be tricky, as first you have to overcome the temptation to overcook the pasta (the cooking time for this particular one is a bit under 1 min!), and then you have to make sure that the cheese clings but not clumps (I love alliteration! :-) The nice thing is that this dish is very forgiving, so even if something terrible happens, you are still left with the delicious gooey, salty, and creamy mess, perfect with a white Burgundy (the one below I miraculously bought at WholeFoods for $19.99!!!):