I’m aware this is TOTAL blasphemy and most Italians would be horrified, but as a lover of classic cacio e pepe I was so upset to find out that pecorino wasn’t vegetarian. I tried making it with vegetarian parmesan-style cheese instead (they really need to find a sexier term for that) and it’s was ok, but not quite as good. And then I tried swapping in extra mature cheddar when making my go-to Trullo cacio e pepe recipe, reducing the butter a fair bit to account for the cheddar being more oily than pecorino, and it was heaven! I honestly think I prefer it to the original, which is fortunate for my wallet, given the relative cost of cheddar compared to pecorino.
In terms of the pasta to have this with, fresh pici is ideal if you can be bothered to make it (see my post here for the recipe) If you’re using dried, bucatini would be my preference, but even just spaghetti would do.
I guess you could serve this with a salad if you really wanted to, but I think it takes the fun out. This is one of those dishes where you just say “f*ck it, I’m having cheesy-carb-fest” and promise to get seven of your five a day the next day to atone for it.
Cheddar cacio e pepe
- 400g dried pasta, or 600g fresh pasta
- 100g unsalted butter
- 100g grated mature cheddar
- Freshly ground black pepper (see method for quantity)
- Salt to taste
- Put the pasta on to cook in a large pan of salted boiling water.
- Meanwhile, in a large frying pan melt the butter, and add enough freshly ground black pepper to it to make your nose tingle – you should be able to smell the pepper as it toasts in the butter, so don’t hold back – for my pepper mill that might be about 30 grinds, but mills differ in efficiency so judge it for yourself.
- When the pasta is nearly al dente, remove a mug full of the starchy pasta cooking water and set it aside. Then take a ladleful more of the pasta cooking water, and put it into the pan with the butter, which should all bubble up furiously, and bubble away for a couple of minutes, turning into a beautifully silky sauce.
- Drain the pasta when it’s al dente, then add it to the pan with the sauce, still over a medium heat, turning it all over to make sure it’s coated. Then add the grated cheddar on top, and stir it in, keeping it moving so that it melts evenly and doesn’t go lumpy. Use the reserved mug of water to add small splashes if necessary to loosen it. Season with the salt, and extra black pepper if you don’t think you added enough at the start – it should be really visible, as the pepper is a vital part of this dish.
- Serve immediately – can’t stress that bit enough, this needs to be eaten straight away.