This is Nick’s favorite dish when we eat at Sotto Sotto, which is why I chose it as my first cooking project. Just like Nick w/ the Fermented Potato Bread, I am trying to copy someone else’s restaurant dish.
There are only four ingredients in this dish: pasta, cheese, pepper and pancetta. Now some folks would think, “Four ingredients? That must mean it’s easy to cook.” They would be wrong. With only four ingredients there’s nothing to hide behind when you fuck it up. Also those ingredients should also be the highest of quality. The truth is, however, I work a lot and do not have time to travel to Star Provisions for cheese and the Spotted Trotter for pancetta, so I grabbed from the fine offerings of the Kosher Kroger in Toco Hills and hoped for the best.
I had Nick review the recipes I had procured from a hasty internet search and he said, “No, No, No.” They involved making a paste with cheese and water, and adding the pancetta separately. Nick says “Just cook the pasta, cook the pancetta, toss them together add a ton of pepper and top with cheese.”
It definitely sounded easier than making a cheese paste, but that was one less thing to hide behind.
Nick then doubted my claim that it was hard to find a recipe for Cacio e Pepe e Pancetta. I found plenty of recipes for Cacio e Pepe, but not so many w/ pancetta. Luckily when Nick searched on his ipad he too found similar results including one horrific version by Guy Fieri that was more like alfredo sauce than anything.
Cooking pasta properly is one of the hardest things for me. Mostly because I don’t mind it a bit overdone and I hate it underdone and I never know how much more it will cook once out of the water.
Luckily Nick took over. His first observation is I never salt the water enough. I thought a tablespoon or two of salt was plenty. Apparently you want it almost ocean salty and more than ocean salty if you were going to blanch vegetables.
Once we got the water salinated and boiling, Nick added the pasta. I had partially cooked the pancetta when Nick pointed out the pan was not big enough to hold the pasta. So I transferred it to a bigger pan, but Nick said to not cook the pancetta any more. It looked a bit sad and raw so I began to worry I had bought the wrong kind of pancetta.
As the pasta got close Nick urged me to start cooking the pancetta again to “crisp it up.” Relief flooded through me as the pancetta began to resemble what it looks like at Sotto Sotto. Disaster averted.
As we began to add the pepper Nick warned me to not go all the way and add all the pepper in one go, but rather add some, mix and taste and then add some more. He is so good at this, it’s like he’s a professional or something.
Nick said it was “just as good” as Sotto Sotto’s version. Success!
While Nick is out of town I am going to try and make my favorite pasta dish the buccatini w/ bacon and tomato sauce from Bocca Lupo. So stay tuned for more cooking fun!