Cacio e Pepe-Style Pici
For the pasta…
To make hand-rolled Tuscan pici from scratch, check out my guide here. This recipe would also be great with your favorite boxed pasta, particularly bucatini!
What you’ll need…
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
6 ounces pecorino romano, finely grated (or parmigiano reggiano, or a combination of both if it’s difficult to find pecorino or you're running low at this time)
2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper (as much as your arms can bear!), plus more for finishing
For the mornay...
The reason this is cacio e pepe “style” and not a traditional cacio e pepe recipe is because the base of the sauce is a mornay, or a creamy bechamel sauce mounted with cheese. So, to make the mornay, melt the butter over medium-high heat in a small saucepan. Follow with the flour and whisk to combine into a paste (roux). Continue whisking and cook for about a minute to remove the taste of the raw flour.
Add the milk in a thin steady stream, or a couple of tablespoons at a time, and whisk vigorously to combine. The mixture will get very thick at first, but will thin out significantly once all the milk is added.
Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce begins to bubble, then reduce heat to low and stir until it coats the back of a wooden spoon (this didn’t take more than a minute or two for me!). Whisk in black pepper so it’s evenly dispersed then, over very low heat, follow with the freshly grated cheese in 3 increments, not at all once. After each bit of cheese is added, whisk thoroughly and, before it melts completely, add the next batch, then the next. Remove from heat and set aside.
Note: a skin will begin to form pretty much immediately; that’s fine if you’re using this base right away, or you can cover with a thin layer of plastic to prevent this from happening.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. If using boxed pasta, add to well-salted water and begin to cook. About halfway through, melt another tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a large saute pan. Crack another good amount of black pepper into the butter and stir to toast until fragrant, about 1 minute. If using fresh pici, add to the water at this point.
Add a few large spoonfuls of the mornay sauce to the pan—if a skin has formed, stir it again to break it up—then ladle about ½ cup pasta water into the pan and stir vigorously to combine. A very smooth, creamy sauce should emerge! Reduce heat to low and add more pasta water/mornay base as needed, making sure to stir it well.
When pasta is just shy of al dente (likely 3ish minutes less than the box recommends, but trust your taste buds; for pici, this will take a lot less time so check every minute or so), use tongs to transfer it directly to the pan with the sauce and toss to combine. Pici can be delicate, so try to be as gentle as possible while still emulsifying the sauce. Allow pasta to cook for 1-2 minutes in the sauce, adding more pasta water as needed. Serve immediately, topped with more freshly cracked black pepper. Enjoy!
PS: I didn't add salt to this recipe — between the pecorino and the pasta water, the dish was very well-seasoned, but use your best judgment and adjust yours accordingly!
To store the mornay base for future use, seal in an air-tight container and keep refrigerated for several days or in the freezer—just defrost in the refrigerator to use. Reheat gently over low heat.