Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cacio e Pepe

This cold weather is unbearable. We were just blessed with 5-8 inches of icy snow. Every time I take the kids outdoors, they scream when the wind starts to blow despite the fact that they are wrapped like mummies. Matthew my almost-five-year-old will stop dead in his snowy tracks, crying and refusing to go any further until I agree to carry him in my arms along with Emma. Have no fear - I don't acquiesce to his requests - but we do end up taking about 10x as long to reach our destination with all the whining. And I don't like the bitterly cold wind either! So, we've been spending the long, dark days indoors - and they are beginning to become quite dull. While I may feel bored, Emma and Matthew have certainly been finding ways to entertain themselves.

Emma loves her Daddy!

The children recently decided to set up their Little People Nativity Set by the fireplace. That is all fine and dandy, except I am now finding the wise men, the shepherds, and various members of the holy family in the most absurd places. They show up in the bathroom sink, in the cabinets, in the fireplace, in the microwave, or - on special occasions - I'll discover one ensconced inside Emma's diaper as I'm laying her down for a changing. The other day, Emma was eating in her high chair with the sheep and Mary figures on her tray. She began stuffing her pasta into their hollow feet. That was a disgusting mess. No more toys during mealtime for her.

Our poor cat is another source of entertainment for the wee ones. He stays out all night chasing bunnies and mice in the snow and just wants to rest when he comes back inside. Unfortunately for Riley, rest is kind of hard to come by when Emma is around. He does his best to ignore.

I often find him asleep on our couch buried under a small mound of toys. It's kind of awesome that he really doesn't care.

And he would have stayed there with those toys on top of him had I not been compelled by mercy to remove them.

Lately, I have been absolutely starving by the time Paul gets home from work. During the week, I have been trying to plan dinners that are quick, easy to throw together, and require very little advance preparation. Instead of the traditional spaghetti with meat sauce, we have been enjoying some simply dressed pasta dishes - like this recipe for Cacio e Pepe. It's a great meal that the entire family enjoys eating. Add a light salad on the side or maybe some breadsticks (if I'm feeling super ambitious to get the dough started early in the day) and this is one of Paul's favorite meals.

Cacio e Pepe ("cheese and pepper") is a traditional Italian dish where cooked pasta is tossed with a simple sauce consisting of Pecorino Romano cheese, a generous helping of pepper, and a touch of cream. That's all you need to create a pretty darn yummy dish! You can also use the same method for dressing the pasta as dictated in the recipe except using finely grated Parmesan and some grated lemon zest (plus a squeeze of lemon juice at the end). Both varieties are pretty tasty, filling, and much beloved by our family. I make this a couple times each month - Paul even requested the Parmesan variety for his birthday last year! It's really simple, but really good! The key is to use good quality cheese and olive oil because they are the highlight of the whole dish!

Cacio e Pepe
from Cook's Illustrated

Note: As stated above, sometimes we switch out the Pecorino Romano for Parmesan and add in a generous amount of lemon zest and juice as we're tossing. It's also delicious! Also, make sure to use the exact amount of water and salt when cooking the pasta - the starch in the pasta thickens up the water so the sauce sets up properly and the salt ensures a well-seasoned dish!

4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (Plus some additional coarsely grated Pecorino or Parmesan for sprinkling on individual servings!)
1 pound spaghetti
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons heavy cream or half/half
2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper

Place the finely grated Pecorino in a medium bowl. Set colander in large bowl.

Bring 2 quarts water to boil in large Dutch oven. Add pasta and 1½ teaspoons salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente. Drain pasta into colander set in bowl, reserving cooking water. Pour 1½ cups cooking water into liquid measuring cup and discard remainder. Return pasta to now-empty Dutch oven.

Slowly whisk 1 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water into finely grated Pecorino until smooth. Whisk in the cream, oil, and black pepper. Gradually pour cheese mixture over pasta, tossing to coat. Let pasta rest 1-2 minutes, tossing frequently, adjusting consistency with remaining ½ cup reserved pasta water as necessary (I almost never use it - but it's a matter of preference!). Serve, passing coarsely grated Pecorino separately.

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