I know cacio e pepe is the most done to death food trend, but it’s one that I can’t get enough of – it’s so comforting, and yet not entirely nursery food, as the black pepper, when it’s done right, is enough to bring quite a lot of fiery heat to it. Here, I’ve re-imagined the classic dish into filled pasta. Despite there being so few ingredients in cacio e pepe, it’s amazingly easy to mess it up and end up with lumpy cheese, rather than a silky sauce. Trust me, I’m speaking as someone who has messed it up countless times before finally cracking it, and I still mess it up from time to time!
This format means there’s no risk of lumpy cheese, but all the flavour. If you’re not vegetarian, use pecorino instead of parmesan – it’s traditional in cacio e pepe, and has a uniquely salty tang. Discovering that pecorino isn’t vegetarian was a particularly sad moment for me, as I used to love it, and the vegetarian parmesan-style cheese doesn’t pack quite such a punch. However, I now make it with the veggie version, and it’s still delicious, so don’t let that put you off.
Cacio e Pepe Ravioli
For the pasta dough
- 2 eggs
- 200g “tipo 00” flour (also sold as “pasta flour”)
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (please don’t be tempted to use pre-ground, it won’t be nice!)
For the filling
- 250g ricotta (drained if it’s watery)
- 40g pecorino or vegetarian parmesan-style cheese, plus extra to serve
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 80g unsalted butter
- Put the flour into a bowl with the black pepper, and whisk it together in order to evenly disperse the pepper. Make a well in the centre of the flour, and crack the eggs into it. Use a fork to whisk the eggs, gradually incorporating more and more of the flour into the egg. Once it looks shaggy, stop using the fork, tip it out onto a clean work top, and start bringing it together with your hands. Keep going until all the flour has been incorporated, and you have a fairly stiff, but pliable dough. If it’s a little dry, simply wash your hands, shake them over the sink and go back to kneading it; just the water clinging to your hands should be enough to bring it all together to a dough. Knead it really vigorously for a good 5-10 minutes until it’s really smooth and elastic. Wrap it in cling film and let it rest at room temp for at least 30 mins.
- Meanwhile, make the filling by mixing the ricotta, finely grated pecorino or veggie parmesan-style cheese together in a bowl with plenty of salt and the black pepper. Taste it and make sure the black pepper is really prominent, add more if not. Put the filling into a piping bag if you have one, or if not, you can use a teaspoon to spoon it onto the pasta.
- Roll the pasta out to a thickness of approximately 1-2 mm, then cut it out into 8cm rounds using a cookie cutter. Keep them covered with cling film so that they don’t dry out.
- Now, the main pic shows round ravioli, which you can of course make, but in retesting this I made them into mezzalune, as seen in the above pic. This is easier, and quicker to form, and the yield I’ve given at the top is based on mezzalune. If you want to make round ravioli, or any other filled shape, by all means do, but you might find you have a smaller yield.
- To make mezzalune, put a generous blob of filling into the centre of each round. (it’s best to make one first, to get a gauge of how much filling you should be using – they should be plump, but not so much filling you can’t close them) Dip your finger or a brush into water, then swipe it lightly around the edges of the top half of the circle, just in order to dampen it so it will stick and make a good seal. Pick up the round, and fold it over, ensuring the filling stays inside, and seal it around the edges, so you have a semi-circle. Try to ensure you push all the air out before you seal it, as an air pocket will cause it to burst when it’s cooking. Make sure you press really firmly around the edges to ensure it’s completely sealed, or the cooking water will get into the middle and ruin it.
- As you make them, put them onto a tray or plate dusted with semolina to stop them sticking. (You can leave them like this for a few hours covered in cling film in the fridge, but freeze them if you’re not going to cook them on the same day)
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Melt the butter in a large frying pan, big enough to hold all the pasta, and season it well with salt and more black pepper. Leave the butter over a low heat as the pasta is cooking. Cook the pasta in the boiling water, stirring gently with a slotted spoon to ensure it doesn’t stick. The pasta will rise up to the surface when they are nearly ready, but give them another minute or two after that to ensure the pasta is cooked – I always taste one just to be sure before draining. When the pasta is nearly cooked, turn the heat up under the butter, then take a ladleful of the pasta cooking water, and add it to the melted butter in the frying pan. The water should bubble away furiously, then simmer down and turn into a lovely silky buttery sauce. Use the slotted spoon to lift the pasta out of the water and add it to the frying pan. Gently turn it all over in the pan to ensure each piece is well coated in the butter, then serve immediately, with extra grated cheese scattered over.