Oh it is so ugly outside. I’m so doggedly tired of slogging through rushing rivers of slush, teetering over shifting tectonic plates of glacial sidewalk ice, and slipsliding down MBTA stairwells onto slick platforms thick with impatient, pushy, and padded-with-winter-wear people. I couldn’t even spare the effort to make it to the grocery store, even though Clayton and I walked by it on our way home from Harvard Square. Both of us were too weary to be hungry; all we had in sight was our wee warm house, and our comfy couches. But after an hour of warming up and relaxing, we realized we needed to eat – but we had little to nothing in the house. BUT — little to nothing in Lolita’s kitchen means at least enough to throw together this easiest of simplest of delicious-est dinners! All you need is a nice pantry, a commitment to heavy cream, butter, and a nice, fine, hard, laced-with-black-truffle pecorino romano cheese. A few scallions don’t hurt, but aren’t strictly necessary. This is a riff off of Batali/Bastinach’s (mother & son) Spaghettoni Cacio e Pepe, which Clayton and I enjoyed at eataly in December. If we hadn’t been weighted down with our luggage (we were on our way out of town), and if the place hadn’t have been so overcrowded, we would have sat at the bar to watch the cooks work, so I rather made up the technique, in the hopes I’d capture their tender but toothsome pasta’s texture, and the silky, gentle, classic, effortless simplicity of their sauce. Perhaps mine came out a bit heavier, but I think I caught the spirit — and we certainly enjoyed the post-supper satisfaction.
Pasta con pepe e caciotta al tartufo (a very fancy name for a simple but sophisticated light macaroni and cheese)
1/2 lb pasta – make it a good quality, sauce-lovin’ variety
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese flecked with black truffle (black truffle salt or black truffle oil or, of course, shavings of fresh truffle will work here, too)
cracked black pepper
sliced green onions (optional)
I bought these beautiful squiggly things (fuselli, I think) at the Salumeria the last time we were there, and have been waiting to use this other half package. It was the perfect serving for two.
I dump the pasta into salted boiling water for about 12 minutes. I usually take a noodle out at the 10 minute mark to see how cooked it is, and then adjust my cooking time based on that. It’s not rocket science, but it can be intuitive.
Using my netspoon, I fish out my al dente pasta, and dump the noodles into my pan, where my butter has been melting over medium heat.
I toss everything well…
… add my cream, and simmer…
… and I add my cheese, and simmer, until my sauce is the thickness I want. If I want to thin it some, I add a bit of my pasta water, and stir well. At the last moment, I add some sea salt and a hefty serving of cracked black pepper, until it tastes real durn good.
Once my water was a’boilin’, this took 20 minutes to get to my table. Springy, firm but tender pasta, draped lightly with milk and umame cheese, speckled with grains of pepper and green onion rings. This is warm, elegant, simple, yet transcendent. This is basically a macaroni and cheese, but is also oh so much more. I can see how these flavors come together in rural farmhouses all along the Italian peninsula; the yield from a healthy cow, foraging pigs digging local truffles, a backyard garden — that’s all one needs. And I see why it makes its way to the poshest gourmet experience in Manhattan, and why it cost $14 a plate for what I was able to cobble together from stuff in my fridge: because it is sinfully delicious, and decadently alluring – like a nymphette to Humbert Humbert, or mature women swooning over Justin Beiber or Robert Pattinson. Since making it to either Italian farmstead or NYC hotspots is unlikely for me these days, thank goodness for Whole Foods. I hope one day to experience the former, but am damn happy to enjoy the latter… especially since I stocked up before the dreadful cold wet night we’re having now. Ahhh…. comfort. Celebrate warmth: eat hot food.