In the kitchen of the average Roman of my generation you will likely find boxed pasta and jars of store bought pasta sauce. People are busy. They work, they fight the city's chaos to and from work, they have personal lives. Their mothers and some fathers may be excellent cooks, but a lot of this knowledge did not get passed along. The Slow Food Movement may have originated here in Italy, but in modern households, handmade pasta is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Last week, the prospect of leaving Italy having made my own pasta only once started to weigh heavily on me. So I called nonna Elena. When she came over, I was already eagerly weighing the flour. I measured out 200 grams of grano duro (ground durum wheat flour), mounded it up, and made a crater into which I cracked two eggs - one then another.
With Elena supervising, I incorporated, kneaded, rolled, dried and cut the pasta. Then for the next three days straight, I did it all again.
Elena taught me this trick, where you roll the pasta as I'm showing here, folding both edges in towards the center. Then cut even strands of fettuccine and slide the knife carefully underneath the pasta.
We ate ours with a typical Roman cacio e pepe. Sharp pecorino romano cheese and black pepper, toasted in the pan for extra heat. This is on the menu of virtually every Roman hostaria; however I must admit, I've never been able to eat an entire plate full. I find it overly strong, too heavy, and overwhelmingly salty. I prefer to make it at home so I can control the amount of cheese and make it more palatable to my taste.
Now I have graduated. I can go forth and make fresh pasta in the New World. Plates and plates of it. Friends, family, get ready!
Cacio e Pepe for spaghetti or fresh pasta
Adapted from Bon Appetit
The secret to releasing the flavor of the black pepper is to toast it in a dry pan first. Purists would probably serve their cacio e pepe with spaghetti, albeit from a box.
6 ounces of pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, tagliolini or other)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used less butter and added a swig of olive oil.)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more, to taste
3/4 cup to 1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
Bring a large pot of water to boil for your pasta. When it starts to boil, add enough salt so that if you (bravely) dip your finger in, it tastes like the sea. Be sure to keep the pasta al dente.
Meanwhile, toast the black pepper in a dry sauté pan for about one minute. Add about 1/4 cup of your pasta water to stop the pepper from cooking, then add the butter and stir to melt. As soon as your pasta is cooked, add it to the sauté pan and turn off the heat. Coat the pasta with the butter and pepper and sprinkle in the cheese, mixing it all together gently. Add more pasta water if the sauce seems dry, and serve.