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Cheese and poppy seeds. They go together like cheese and pasta. Or cheese and pepper. 

One of the Holy Trinity of Roman Pasta dishes – Cacio e Pepe has become one of the trendiest pasta dishes in recent times. 

Maybe it’s the simplicity – literally “cheese and pepper”, it’s a wonderful advertisement for the merits of simple high-quality ingredients coming together to make something delicious. There’s also a real technique to it, anyone who has tried making this dish before knows there are some serious pitfalls to avoid – namely clumping balls of cheese. 

A divisive subject – we add butter to our sauce. Purists will argue that butter has no place in Cacio e Pepe, We are not going to argue that this is the most traditional of recipes – after all, we go on to add poppy seeds. However, adding butter is not uncommon. It helps to stabilize the sauce and works to prevent the sauce from splitting as it emulsifies together. Padella, owners of probably the most famous Cacio e Pepe in London evidently use butter in THEIR RECIPE, so we feel vindicated at least!   

Our version adds the nutty, savoury tones from poppy seeds to complement the clean cheese and pepper combination that makes this dish.

Scale

Ingredients

THE CACIO E PEPE

200g Dried Spaghetti, Bucatini or Pici, 

90g Unsalted Butter, cubed

90g Pecorino, very finely grated

Squeeze of Lemon Juice,

½ tsp Pepper, toasted and freshly ground 

1 tsp Poppy Seeds 

TO COOK

Heavily Salted Water

METHOD

THE CACIO E PEPE

TIP – The Cacio e Pepe comes together using the starchy pasta water to emulsify the cheese and butter to create a glossy sauce. This means you will be assembling the sauce whilst the pasta is cooking. The sauce takes no more than 5 minutes to come together so you want to start the sauce 5 minutes before the pasta is cooked until al dente.

Most dried pasta cooks in about 10 minutes, this means you want to start working on the sauce after about five minutes. Check according to the cooking instructions for your pasta.

  1. Cook the pasta in heavily salted water according to the cooking instructions until al dente. Likely about 10 minutes.
  1. Whilst the pasta is cooking, place a large pan over a medium heat. Add the cubed butter into the pan and leave to melt until golden and lightly frothy around the edges of the pan. Once the butter has melted, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the pepper and poppy seeds. Leave to bloom in the butter for about 30 seconds before adding in about 100ml of hot pasta water. Reduce the heat to the pan to low and leave to emulsify together, stirring very occasionally. 
  1. Once the pasta is cooked, transfer the pasta into the pan with the butter mixture stirring around to coat the pasta in the butter, pepper, poppy seed mixture. Remove the pan from the heat 
  1. Evenly scatter the grated pecorino over the pasta and DO NOT STIR IT IN. Stirring at this stage will case the cheese to clump together in little cheese balls. Instead, leave the cheese to melt, using the residual heat from the pasta for 1-2 minutes until you can no longer see and defined gratings of cheese. Now stir the pasta vigorously until the cheese blends into a creamy sauce. You may want to add some more pasta water to achieve a looser, creamier sauce as you go. Go with what looks and feels right. 
  1. Serve immediately with an added pinch of pepper. 

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