Food & Drink

Cacio e pepe comforts empty nesters when the kids fly the coop

Cacio e pepe is a simple, yet glorious pasta traditionally made with the titular cheese and pepper, plus noodles. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Cacio e pepe is a simple, yet glorious pasta traditionally made with the titular cheese and pepper, plus noodles. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The fledgling travels light. One piece of checked luggage, one carry-on, one personal item that can be stowed beneath the seat. All it takes is a puff of the chest, a flap of the wings and a leap.

Leaving the parent birds alone in their nest.

It’s a sturdy home. They’ve spent years dragging in twigs and stuffing the gaps, making it warm, stable and snug. Now, as the birdlets gather their laundry, earbuds and courage, the rooms seem strangely roomy.

The big birds puff their chests, flap their wings and take their own leap. Maybe they can pull the twigs in tighter, settle down, pair up. They start with a nest of noodles. It’s warmed with pepper, snug in sauce and just enough for two.

CACIO E PEPE

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Makes: 2 servings

6 ounces dry spaghetti

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons freshly, coarsely ground black pepper

3/4 cup freshly, finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/3 cup freshly, finely grated pecorino

Boil: Heat a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Stir in spaghetti, lower heat a bit and cook until almost tender-but-firm (say, 1 minute less than the package suggests). While pasta is cooking, set a large serving bowl over the pot to warm for a minute or two. Scoop out 1 cup cooking water. Drain pasta.

Emulsify: In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Scatter in pepper and toast, swirling pan, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Careful of spatter, pour in 1/2 cup cooking water, boil 1 minute. Slide in cooked spaghetti and toss with tongs to coat each strand.

Toss: Heap pasta into the warmed bowl. Sprinkle on half the cheese, and toss. Sprinkle on remaining cheese, and toss until pasta is coated in creamy sauce, drizzling in a little more cooking water, if needed. Cover and let rest 1 minute. Toss. Taste for salt (it won’t need much). Twirl a nest of pasta onto each of two plates. Enjoy.

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