The Perfect Cacio & Pepe

Recipes in this post:
PICI PASTA with CACIO & PEPE sauce
(serves 4)

Pici (pasta)

(300g semolina; 70g all purpose flour; 35g strong white flour; 200 ml warm water; pinch of salt)

Cacio & Pepe sauce

(200g grated Tuscan pecorino cheese; black peppercorns & ground black pepper)
  1. Prepare the PICI mixing the three flours and the warm water, with a pinch of salt. No eggs needed. Knead for about 10 minutes till the dough is smooth. Let it rest at room temperature for about half hour and then start to work the dough, flattening it into sheets about 0.7 cm high.
  2. Cut long strips out of each sheet. With two hands and straight fingers, start ‘rolling’ these strips on the counter, from the centre of each strip moving towards the sides, till they become cylinders about 0.3 cm of diameter, similar to very thick spaghetti (see the picture below). While making pici, leave them to rest on a tea towel sprinkled with semolina to avoid sticking.
  3. Bring a pot of water (slightly salted) to a boil. Start the CACIO & PEPE sauce crushing the peppercorns in a hot pan, letting them toast for a few minutes, finishing them off with a spoon of boiling water. Then, add the toasted peppercorns to a bowl with half of the grated pecorino, and add a ladle of cooking water; whisk till you obtain a smooth, silky cream–keep this warm.
  4. Cook the pici in the boiling water for about 8 minutes, drain, and transfer to the bowl with the pecorino cream. Add the remaining grated pecorino cheese and loads of ground black pepper. Mix all together.
  5. Create nests of pici twisting the pasta in a ladle with kitchen tongs. Decorate with micro basil leaves for a fresh, balsamic touch.

Pici are one of the oldest pasta, with their ancestors appearing on banquet scenes in Etruscan burial frescos. Today, pici are officially linked with the food tradition of Siena, in Tuscany. The word ‘pici‘, or ‘pinci‘, (plural of ‘picio‘ or ‘pincio‘ respectively), comes from the gesture used to make them, ‘appicciare‘, i.e. hand rolling the pasta dough strips into the thin, long cylinders tapering at their extremities–see the image above.

Pici are exceptionally tasty in their simplicity. One of the most traditional ways to enjoy them is with aglione, a spicy garlic and tomato sauce, or with game rag├╣, as hunting hare and wild boar is common in the valleys of the Tuscan Appennino. My favourite classic sauce for pici is cacio e pepe, as in my recipe here. It is as simple as divine. Don’t be stingy on the pecorino cheese (use a Tuscan one) and you won’t regret it!