Classics, with a twist. This statement certainly turns heads. Either you embrace the idea of modifying a tried and true dish or you proclaim heresy and admonish those individuals that go tempering with tradition. I straddle both sides of the coin.
Cacio e pepe is one of Rome’s greatest pastas. Roman food is simplicity at its finest. Homemade fresh noodle pasta, olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper, and cheese. That is it. And that is all that is ever needed in this comforting yet transcendent pasta. The exotic tastiness from an abundance of freshly cracked black pepper, paired with salty yet tangy hard grated hard Italian cheeses, like Pecorino, is divine. So why go messing with perfection?
Well, because sometimes your taste buds go rouge. I love to gently saute and simmer fresh grape tomatoes with garlic over low heat, in olive oil, for 30 minutes. With this technique, the grape tomatoes gently break down, exude their juices and flavors, turn slightly sweet, and taste of pure radiance. Combining this profound, yet simple way to cook grape tomatoes and garlic, with cacio e pepe and butter creates a pasta plate worthy of dinner parties and family outings. The freshness of the grape tomatoes and the nuttiness from the butter transform the cacio e pepe, and makes it more spring-summer-like. Your family and friends will love you for serving them this elegant, yet easy to make, pasta classic with a twist.
Grape tomato cacio e pepe recipe
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 1 lb spaghetti
- 50 grape tomatoes, halved (cherry tomatoes are fine too)
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried red chili
- 1/4 – 1/3 cup of parmesan and pecorino cheeses, mixed together
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Lots (lots!) of freshly cracked black pepper
We want to gently, and slowly, cook and break down the grape tomatoes. In a large cold saute pan, add the olive oil and grape tomatoes. Place it over low heat and have the tomatoes gingerly get up to heat and start to saute. Jigger the saute pan every minute or so. After the first 5 minutes, add a bit of salt. This will help render out the juices and pulp from the tomato and have it blend into the olive oil. This starts the composition of the joyously summer tomato-flavored cacio e pepe sauce.
Continue to saute the grape tomatoes for another 10-15 minutes. As the tomatoes cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once at a boil, add plenty of salt and then your pasta.
After the grape tomatoes gently saute, add the minced garlic. Stir the garlic into the tomatoes, but be mindful not to break the softened grape tomatoes. We like to keep them as whole as possible. In a separate saute pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Once melted, stir in a good amount of freshly cracked black pepper. Have the black pepper toast in the butter for a couple minutes and then pour it over the grape tomatoes & garlic. Have this marry together for 5 minutes.
Once your pasta is al-dente, using a pair of tongs, directly transfer the pasta from the pot of boiling water to the grape tomato cacio e pepe sauce. Gently toss the pasta to coat the noodles in the tasty olive-oil, butter and grape tomato mixture. Add your cheese and give the pasta another toss, using the tongs. Give it a taste. We want this pasta to have impact, thanks to lots of black pepper and cheese. We also want the sweetness of the grape tomatoes to linger and shine through in its finish. Add more black pepper (I like a lot), cheese, and olive oil, to your liking, to finish and plate the dish. Enjoy!