Cacio e Pepe Fridays

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:

La Matriciana o Amatriciana

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.

Both cheeses can be found at WholeFoods (make sure you get the “genuine” Sini Fulvi DOP (name-protected) Pecorino Romano, from Italy’s Lazio region.

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!!!):