Tag Archives: Italian

Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper

10 Aug

So those who follow this blog on Facebook know that at about 4pm yesterday afternoon I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to make for dinner last night.  So I came home and dug into my magazines and cookbooks and pulled out recipe that fit exactly the criteria I was looking for: few ingredients, little cost, and quick to pull together.  The result was “spaghetti alla cacio e pepe”, or spaghetti with pecorino romano and black pepper–a recipe that always looked so classy that I had just never gotten around to trying.

The trick to this recipe is high quality ingredients so I, of course, making a very traditional Italian meal, decided to go to my local Italian market instead of the giant supermarket.  I’m sure you have one near you as well, you may just have to search online to figure out where it is.  (Not to brag…but my local Italian market, Bay Cities Deli, was featured on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate”…but that then means the line is over an hour long for a sandwich on weekends.  It’s worth it.)

Finding the pecorino romano in their cheese section was easy, as I knew it would be, and then I got this crazy idea that an Italian grocery like this would have fresh pasta instead of the typical dried pasta that 99% of us eat.  I’ve certainly never eaten fresh pasta before, so what better time to try it than a time when quality ingredients count?  Bonus: Walked out with a receipt for just $7, despite the fancy stuff I just purchased.

I’ve painted a rosy picture here, but truthfully, I was at the market and panicking because the recipe calls for 3 ounces of cheese and the cheese was only labeled in pounds not ounces, then I realized that the recipe calls for 6 ounces of pasta and, not only is the pasta also labeled in pounds, but fresh pasta certainly weighs more than dried and …wait, how do you cook fresh pasta versus dried pasta?!  Not to mention that once I got home and started cooking, I forgot to save the pasta water as I ALWAYS tend to do so I hope neighbors didn’t hear the screams of rage through my open kitchen window (luckily I realized halfway through pouring out the water so all was not lost).

It turns out, I really just needed to stop panicking because this recipe’s charm is its simplicity and I was totally over-thinking it.  A few final notes: do not eat the cheese off the plate as you’re grating it because you will discover that this is one of the best cheeses you have ever eaten (and I don’t even like hard cheeses like this!) and you will eat the whole wedge before finishing the recipe. Also, do not try eating the fresh spaghetti before you cook it because you will discover that it is so incredibly delicious and you will eat the whole bunch of it before finishing the recipe. Soft and doughy, it has the most amazing flavor and I think I could happily eat it fresh and uncooked for the rest of my life. That all said, if you don’t eat the ingredients beforehand and manage to actually cook dinner, you’ll have a great simple meal on your hands.  If anyone will love this recipe, it’s my sister, who I can remember eating pasta with cheese sprinkled on it for as long as I can remember.

Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper
Serves 2
Recipe from Cooking for Two 2011

  • 3 oz Pecorino Romano cheese; 1 cup of it finely grated plus about 1/2 cup coarsely grated (my wedge of cheese was about .5 lb)
  • 6 oz spaghetti (easier to figure out: just 2 servings dried or fresh pasta)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  1. Right off the bat, DO NOT fill a whole pot of water to boil the pasta (I say it because that’s exactly what I did).  Put only 4 cups (1 quart) of water into a large pot, bring it to a boil.
  2. Add pasta and salt; cook stirring often (it may stick to itself in such low water), for about 5-7 minutes until al dente or your preferred doneness.
  3. Next important tip: DO NOT pour the pasta water into the sink.  The whole reason we boiled the pasta in such a tiny amount of water is to make the water super starchy.  Put a bowl in the sink, put a colander into the bowl, pour the pasta in into the colander.  Shake the pasta a bit to make sure all the water is off and toss it back into the pot, leaving the water in the bowl.
  4. Put the 1 cup of grated pecorino romano into a small mixing bowl.  Pour 1/2 cup of the pasta water over the pecorino romano and whisk slowly until smooth.  Whisk the cream, oil, and black pepper into the melted cheese.
  5. Pour the cheese mixture over the warm pasta in the pot.  Toss the pasta with the sauce and let it sit for 2 minutes to soak up the sauce, tossing the pasta a few times throughout the 2 minutes.  If the sauce is too thick, use the leftover pasta water to thin it down a bit; just stirring it in until you have the desired consistency.
  6. Add an extra twist of the pepper grinder and the coarsely grated cheese–you won’t need even a sprinkle of salt, because the cheese is a great salty cheese, especially if you put a TON of it on top like I did tonight.

Panna Cotta

21 Jun

I wondered if I was getting ahead of myself by posting my all-time favorite dessert only a month into my food blog adventure.  But I’m just so beside myself with excitement that I was able to recreate this dessert I thought was impossible to make at home that I really have to share it with you.  I had my first taste of panna cotta in London, in a little Italian restaurant in Exmouth Market, just a block or two from the flat I was staying in for the semester.  I can barely remember the taste or even the texture, but I do remember that I was absolutely in heaven.  Or perhaps eating heaven.

Panna cotta is a delicately flavored (typically with vanilla beans) dessert with a consistency that falls somewhere between Jell-O and pudding.  It’s softer than Jell-O, but firmer than pudding. Panna cotta is typically molded so that it looks just like flan.  The beauty of panna cotta is that you can take it from a fancy molded Italian bistro dessert down to a less fussy yet still classy and beautiful presentation.  The recipe here is pretty strongly of vanilla (it tasted almost like ice cream)–probably because I used vanilla bean paste instead of an actual vanilla bean (see my caramel recipe as to why).  I missed the delicate flavor, but the delicate texture was exactly what I was hoping for and, in the end, this was still one of my biggest triumphs in the kitchen: recreating one of the greatest food memories I have in my heart.

I have to admit, I waited 4 years to even attempt this because I assumed it was a recipe only attempted by the most knowledgeable Italian master chefs.  I give full credit to Miss Nina Baker (no relation) for giving this recipe a try long before I did–and successfully I might add!  Obviously I regret waiting so long now that I know how easy it is to make.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
slightly modified from The Best International Recipe cookbook
serves 5-8, depending on your serving manner

Emily’s Tips: 1) make sure you have 2 trays of ice ready ahead of time or else you’ll be calling your boyfriend and asking him to stop by your apartment to make ice for you before you get home from work.  Your request will be met with confusion.  2) Keep your wits about you.  This is a very simple recipe, despite its appearance.  Just read the recipe thoroughly ahead of time and stay calm during the cooking process.  3) Make sure you’ve got a thermometer handy.

  • 1 cup whole milk (do not substitute skim or low-fat milk)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Knox unflavored gelatin (find it in the market next to the Jell-O)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (2 teaspoons of vanilla extract can be used instead)
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  1. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the milk and let it sit and hydrate, about 10 minutes.
  2. Combine the vanilla bean paste (or extract) and cream in a large measuring cup; set aside. Make a large bowl of ice water using 2 trays of ice cubes and 4 cups cold water; set aside. Set your containers on a baking sheet and set aside.  You can use eight 4 oz ramekins.  I evenly split the recipe up amongst 5 of our tumblers.  The most elegant serving dish?   Wine glasses.  I prefer the look of stemless in this case.
  3. Heat the milk and gelatin mixture over high heat, stirring constantly, until the gelatin is dissolved and the mixture registers 135 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 1 1/2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the sugar and salt until dissolved, about 1 minute.  Stirring the milk and sugar mixture constantly, slowly add the cream and vanilla mixture (make sure to get all the delicious vanilla that has likely settled to the bottom of the cup by now).
  4. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl (metal if you have it) and set the bowl gently into the ice water. Let the mixture chill, stirring frequently, until it has thickened to the consistency of eggnog and registers 50 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes.
  5. Strain the mixture into a pitcher (I used a tall measuring cup and just refilled a few times), then pour it evenly into the serving dishes.  Shake each dish gently to even the surface.  Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap, making sure that the plastic does not mar the surface of the cream and refrigerate until just set and chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 5 days.
  6. Add your preferred topping just before serving, most commonly a berry coulis, but personally, I just like cutting up fresh strawberries to drop on top.
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