100 Favorite Dishes, No. 2: Cacio e Pepe at Lucia
Pasta coated in a sauce made out of thin air.
For last week's Best of Dallas® 2014 issue, we've been counting down (in no particular order) our 100 Favorite Dishes. If there's a dish you think we need to try, leave it in the comments, or email me.
I'm not sure why, but I get a disproportionate number of questions about the pasta dish you see above. Sure, cacio e pepe, the signature pasta dish of Rome, is a modestly popular plate, but so is roast chicken, and I don't exactly have tons of people asking me where to get the crispiest bird in town. But cacio e pepe, or "that pasta dish with the cheese and peppercorns," as it's often referred, has popped up in casual conversation and in comments in our blog a lot.
And every time I'm asked where to get a decent version of cacio e pepe, my answer is always the same: Get out your stock pot and sautée pan because the only way to have this dish as it should be is to prepare it yourself at home.
The recipe is simple: Cook some pasta in salted water until it's not quite done, and then finish the pasta in a pan with butter or olive oil, cheese (usually parmigiano reggiano) and enough of that pasta water to create a simple sauce. A healthy dose of black pepper gives the dish its characteristic bite. Cheese and pepper: That's the dish.
Yet restaurant kitchens never seem to get it right. Plates are often oily, and the peppercorns that fleck the pasta lack punch. So when I saw taglierini cacio e pepe on the menu at Lucia, I jumped at the chance to try David Uygur's take on the dish.
The trick is getting the water and fat in the dish to emulsify in a way that forms a sauce that clings to the pasta without weighing it down. Uygur also makes use of massive peppercorns that looked like they were cut up with a knife instead of ground in a mill. They explode like gunpowder when ground between your teeth, filling your mouth with faint heat and soot. It's such a simple dish, but it's a difficult one to pull off this well, and it's even harder to conjure something new like Lucia has.
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