Pasta con cacio e pepe is one of the easiest of Italian pasta dishes to make. It’s just pecorino Romano cheese and freshly milled black pepper — a triumph of simplicity and sophistication. That being said, when you make this dish, you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you try to obtain ingredients that are better than average. Simple, minimalist dishes are, in my opinion, the most difficult to carry off well because the provenance of the ingredients can’t hide in the final product.
In foodie terms, this dish doesn’t break any new ground. That’s probably because at least 100 food bloggers have posted a variation at one time or another. A riff on cacio e pepe, my recipe also includes elements from another Italian classic, pasta con aglio e olio (pasta with olive oil and garlic). You can make it in literally 10 minutes … or 15, if you’re not adept at peeling garlic cloves.
Note: Manouri cheese is a Greek semi-soft sheep’s milk cheese. Substitute feta cheese or goat cheese if unavailable.
Penne with manouri cheese, fried breadcrumbs and garlic
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2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 scallion, trimmed and minced (both white and green parts)
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
a pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 lb. manouri cheese, cut into small cubes
a handful of Italian parsley, chopped
a pinch of kosher salt
Prepare pasta according to package directions. Cook until al dente. Drain and reserve 2 tablespoons pasta cooking water.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add garlic and scallions to the pan. Fry until garlic takes on a little color, about 30 seconds. Stir in breadcrumbs and red pepper flakes. If you don’t have freshly made breadcrumbs on hand (stale bread is best), you can sub in plain unflavored breadcrumbs from the corner supermarket. Fry crumbs until they turn golden brown. Do not burn. Remove pan from heat.
Add pasta to the skillet. Toss well. Add pasta cooking water to the pan if penne seems dry. Stir in cheese and parsley. Taste for salt, then serve at once.
Time: 15 minutes, including prep.