When In Rome: Cacio e Pepe (Cheese and Pepper)

I think I've mentioned this before, but there's a Murray's Cheese Bar in my local supermarket! One of my favorite cheese shops from Greenwich Village (which is where I lived during my college years) has a little outpost here in Denver and I've been eating a good deal of high-quality cheese over the past few weeks. Bulgarian Feta, Broncocci, Manchego, smoked Gouda, for example. Anyway, this week I picked up some Cacio de Roma and Pecorino Romano for Cacio e Pepe (literally cheese and pepper), a classic Roman dish. 
The pasta is tasty, its minimal ingredients are simple, and it's easy to make. You can prepare this dish in under 15 minutes. Cacio e Pepe is unpretentious, unambitious, but still entirely delicious. 
Making the ubiquitous Roman dish reminded me of Italy, which is where I vacationed in 2006 during a layover after visiting the Middle East. It was a lifetime ago- before marriage, before Otis, before Theo, and before Colorado... 
On that trip I walked and ate, and the walked some more. The city of Rome is really one of a kind.

I dined at cozy, dim-lit restaurants, but had my fare share of street food too. I ate amazing tiramisu, roasted chestnuts, wonderful bread and drank fabulous wine too. Of course I am a semolina junkie, so I consumed one bowl of pasta after the other. I mean, how could I not? But back to Cacio e Pepe...
The first time I had Cacio e Pepe it was served in a hollowed out Parmesan wheel. I wondered how the wheel was cleaned for re-use and the general sanitariness of it all, but after a bottle of red wine I didn't really care anymore. It was good, good, good. 
I found myself craving it last night after looking through my travel pictures. I had good quality pasta in my pantry, olive oil, freshly cracked black pepper, Pecorino Romano and Cacio de Roma, thanks to Murray's. Dinner was on. 
So here it is. I promise you that one bite of this will have you conjuring up images of the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, and the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica. It's a classic and when it's made right (with high quality ingredients) it's makes the perfect dinner. Bon Appetito!
Cheese and Pepper: Cacio e Pepe 
(Courtesy of Saveur Magazine, from Anya von Bremzen's "Eternal Pleasures," April 2010.)

Serves 4.
Kosher salt, to taste
1 lb. pasta, preferably tonnarelli or thin spaghetti (you could use vermicelli too)

4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste

1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano

3⁄4 cup finely grated Cacio de Roma (some recipes use Grana Padano or Parmesan)

 Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil. 
Add pasta; cook until al dente, 8–10 minutes; reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta.  
Meanwhile, heat oil in a 12" skillet over medium heat until shimmering.  
Add pepper;cook until fragrant, 1–2 minutes. 
Ladle 3⁄4 cup pasta water into skillet; bring to a boil. 
Using tongs, transfer pasta to skillet; spread it evenly. 
Sprinkle 3⁄4 cup each Pecorino Romano and Cacio de Roma over pasta; toss vigorously to 
combine until sauce is creamy and clings to the pasta without clumping, about 2 minutes, 
adding some pasta water if necessary. 
 Transfer to 4 plates and sprinkle with remaining Pecorino and more pepper.

Pairing Note: A medium-bodied Sangiovese, like the 2005 Brancaia Tre Toscana ($21), 
will complement this dish's peppery notes. — David Rosengarten