Help with making cacio e pepe/fettucine alfredo!
I know that cacio e pepe is supposed to be an easy dish, but for some reason, I can't seem to get it right. Very frustrating. Whenever I try, I always end up with a couple balls of melted cheese just sitting there among the pasta, not integrated or melted into the dish.
Pouring pasta water doesn't help at all; in fact, it seems to only encourage the cheese glob formation. I also have a similar problem with fettucine alfredo as well.
I do use good, freshly grated romano cheese and high-quality butter. Any suggestions would be appreciated!
Saveur's recipe for cacio e pepe is also a good one:
I wonder, too, how you're grating your cheese. If you're grating it into shreds, that could account for the clumping. You want it to be more like breadcrumbs or sand, for lack of a better description. You can get this using a box grater (the side with the holes that have been "punctured" from the inside). When I need a fair amount of grated parmigiano or romano, I cut it into small chunks and give it a whiz in my small (or large) food processor.
Here's what Cook's Illustrated had to say about it (paraphrased):
Quality ingredients are essential in this dish, most importantly, imported Pecorino Romano—not domestic cheese labeled “Romano.” Use the small holes on a box grater to grate the cheese finely and the large holes to grate it coarsely. A food processor may also be used to grate it finely: Cut Pecorino into small pieces and process until finely ground, about 45 seconds. For a less rich dish, substitute half-and-half for cream. Don't adjust the amount of water for cooking the pasta. Letting the dish rest briefly before serving allows the flavors to develop and the sauce to thicken.
6 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese , 4 ounces finely grated (about 2 cups) and 2 ounces coarsely grated (about 1 cup) (see note)
1 pound spaghetti
2 tablespoons heavy cream (see note)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
1. Place finely grated Pecorino in medium bowl. Set a colander in a large bowl.
2. Bring 2 quarts water to boil. Add pasta and 1½ teaspoons salt; cook, stirring frequently, until al dente. Drain pasta into colander set in bowl, reserving cooking water. Measure 1.5 cups of cooking water and reserve. Place pasta in empty bowl.
3. Whisk 1 cup reserved pasta cooking water into finely grated Pecorino until smooth. Add cream, oil, and black pepper. Gradually pour cheese mixture over pasta, tossing to coat. Let pasta rest 1 to 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Adjust consistency with remaining ½ cup reserved pasta water as necessary. Serve, passing coarsely grated Pecorino separately.
With Alfredo, the trick is to get the cheese into the butter, and then the liquid to emulsify with that mixture.
This is typically *not* done over direct heat.
Traditionally this is done by taking the butter and creaming the grated cheese into it.
To do this, using an electric eggbeater, you first whip the butter to within an inch of it’s life ... about 4 minutes on high speed (8 minutes if you have to do this by hand).
Then, add the grated cheese in three additions with about a two minute whip in between each (still all on high speed). When all incorporated, put 2/3 of the butter/cheese mixture into the bottom of a nice, colorful pasta serving bowl. (Keep at no cooler than room temperature until serving.)
Then, very shortly, at service time (this is a tableside dish) ...
In quick sequence ... just before entering the dining room ... remove the pasta from the water just a bit al dente and drain briefly (but only briefly, if you drain too long the hot pasta will evaporate it's moisture and will start to stick together) ... now comes the part you *must* do quickly and without pause ... add some of the boiling pasta water to the bowl which contains the 2/3 of the creamed mixture (about 3 to 5 ounces or about half a ladle of water depending on the size of the preparation) and do not mix ... dump the HOT pasta on top of the mixture in the bowl, and *without* mixing it in, bring the bowl and the extra butter/cheese mixture (the 1/3 you set aside) to the tableside. Now, in front of the diners, add the reserved mixture on top of the HOT pasta... and with some fancy long handled serving spoons, forks etc, turn/toss the pasta so all the ingredients, including the mixture and water hidden at the bottom of the pasta, combine until creamy. As you do this the heat will cause the liquid you put in and the butter/cheese mixture to emulsify.
Add a sprinkle of salt (be careful if you used a salty cheese like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano as they are pretty salty on their own ...though other pecorino's are not quite as much) and grind a bit of freshly ground black pepper on top ... plate the dish if that is what you are doing ... and pass the salt, pepper grinder and some extra grated cheese to the diners.
Note that once the hot pasta has been dumped into the bowl ... the meter is running and you have to go to tableside right away.
Also ... note that whatever ingredient list you decide upon ... wine, shrimps, herbs ... whatever ... there is cheese, butter and liquid and the technique isa the same.
This repeats some elements already mentioned, but it is repeatable. Many of the ideas come from Am. Test Kit. Cook pasta in 1/2 the amt. of water usually used (increases the starch in the water. When doing the sauce, work with very low heat. Sauce for one serving 2 Tbsp each of butter, cream and eeoo. Stir as it melts. . Finely grate some good pecorino, 1/2 cup, add slowly to sauce, keep stirring. Add reserved pasta water slowly, keep stirring to get the consistency u want. Add black pepper after sauce is off the heat (Tellicherry pepper is great) Mix into the pasta. Garnish w more pepper, more cheese, some use a sprinkle of parsley. I like fine ground pepper into the sauce and fresh ground, (coarser) as the garnish.