Scroll down for recipe: Pasta with Cheese and Pepper

Since I last posted, our house has been a parade of illness. I will spare you the details, but it is pertinent to our discussion for me to disclose being felled by a 36-hour stomach virus (the dreaded rotovirus), not once, but TWICE in the span of two weeks.

People, you can ask Eric, but generally it is a bad idea to withhold, say, a snack or a meal when the hunger comes upon me. (Jess supplied the perfect word for this phenomenon: Hangry.) When pregnant, I get very very hangry, very very quickly. Lashing out and irrationality ensue. I become incapable of processing language. And now twice this past month I’ve gone 4 or so days without ingesting anything but ginger ale and chicken broth.

This has resulted in transforming my former passion for food into full-on obsession.

I spend my days pouring over cookbooks and food sites, researching recipes and techniques. Several days a week involve trips to grocery stores, specialty stores, bakeries… sometimes for purchasing, sometimes to scope out what is available in the area for future planning.

EJ and I spent one morning on a 5-store hunt for horseradish root.

(It was worth it. I’ll tell you why later.)

And so, in the spirit of using what you got, I’ve decided to share my food crazy with the blog. I’m starting with this ridiculously simple, but crazily delicious, traditional Roman pasta recipe I whipped up for EJ and I the other day.

Pasta with Cheese and Pepper

Adapted loosely from Mario Batali and Smitten Kitchen


I know that you could be fooled into thinking that this is just pasta with some cheese sprinkled on top. But what is hard to capture on film is the hot, dripping, emulsified, butter/cheese sauce that is perfectly coating each piece of pasta.

The basic recipe follows these super simple steps:

1) Cook pasta.
2) Drain, reserve pasta water.
3) Dry pot, return to burner.
4) Heat olive oil to almost smoking.
5) Add pasta, some reserved water, some butter, grated cheese, & pepper.
6) Saute for a minute or so.
7) Season to taste and serve.

It was one of the easiest things I’ve ever made, and it was transcendent. The sort of meal found in hot little NYC restaurants, on authentic Roman countryside tables, and if you look closely, it is nothing more than a recipe for mac’n'cheese using real ingredients instead of boxed, powdered cheese.

In fact, I am NEVER buying or making mac’n'cheese again, not even the Annie’s stuff, because this was just as easy to whip up, using ingredients I always have on hand, and was a thousand, trillion times more delicious than anything that could ever come out of a box.

Now, a note on ingredients and amounts. I was deliberately vague in my instructions…. Mario and Deb list specific cheeses (cacio di roma and pecorino romano, respectively), specific pastas (linguine fini and spaghetti, respectively), exact amounts.

I used fusilli and parmigiano reggiano, because that’s what I had. I guessed at amounts, because I only made about a 3rd of a package of pasta. It was still perfect. My thought is that this is the sort of pasta that you need only understand the technique, and it’s meant to be thrown together with what you have.

(That being said, I’d only use a hard Italian cheese. This is not the place to go grating cheddar into pasta.)

Make it, and rejoice in having a meal in your arsenal that would be equally suited to being served at an elegant dinner party, or for your toddler’s lunch. Oh, and using only things that should be in your pantry at all times.