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Spaghetti with pecorino romano and pepper

So simple, Thoreau would have liked it. With only four ingredients, Spaghetti with pecorino romano and pepper is a lively, rustic Roman favorite quick enough for even the busiest weeknight dinner.

By Blue Kitchen / March 30, 2011

Spaghetti with pecorino romano and pepper can be served with a simple salad as your main course, or serve it in smaller portions as a side dish.

Blue Kitchen


Henry David Thoreau liked things simple. So much so that he spent two years in a 10'×15' cabin near Walden Pond, contemplating life. His most famous takeaway from his adventure? “Simplify, simplify.”

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That’s often my approach in the kitchen. I gravitate to recipes with a handful of well chosen ingredients prepared in a fairly straightforward way. Not out of laziness (well, not completely out of laziness), but more in keeping with my generally minimalist approach to life. Simple is good. Still, when I stumbled across a recipe for Spaghetti a Cacio e Pepe (Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Pepper), it seemed almost too simple, even for me.

It has just four ingredients, and two of those are salt and pepper. But pepper isn’t merely a seasoning here, it’s a co-star. And that makes all the difference. I found this beautifully simple dish in Cooking the Roman Way: Authentic Recipes from the Home Cooks and Trattorias of Rome. (This is the second Roman cookbook Marion has given me now – I’m seeing a trip to Rome in our future.) It features more than 100 recipes, from antipasti to dolce, gathered from “scores of chefs, bakers, butchers, delicatessen men, homemakers, friends, relatives and colleagues.”

As someone who spends way too much time in museums, I have trouble separating the word Roman from the modifier “ancient.” Author David Downie skillfully captures the mix of history and the now that is Rome today, aided by beautiful photography by his photographer wife Alison Harris.

Even as I cooked the four-ingredient pasta dish that is apparently served at homes and trattorias all over Rome, I was skeptical that it could hold our interest for an entire meal. I needn’t have worried – yes, it was simple, but it was also simply delicious. Uncomplicated, rustic comfort food balanced with a lively, peppery kick.

In America, we tend to think of pasta dishes as the main event of the meal. In Italy, they’re often considered primi piatti (first plates), something to be served before the secondi, the second or main course. When I made spaghetti with pecorino romano and pepper for us, I served it with a simple salad, as a lively, satisfying vegetarian dinner. You could also use smaller portions as a side dish that just might outshine your entrée.

Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Pepper
Adapted from Cooking the Roman Way
Serves 2 as a main course

8 ounces dry spaghetti (see Kitchen Notes)
3/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, divided (see Kitchen Notes)
1-1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus extra (see Kitchen Notes)