My friend Gianni — one of the original Fat Boys – called me today. He’s been buried in work for a couple of weeks and we haven’t been much in touch.
“Mikey, I had the cacio e pepe at Eataly last night. You gotta try it; it’s the best cacio e pepe I’ve ever had.”
This was at 2:00 in the afternoon and it was raining. I had kind of settled in for the day.
“Life is short, man. Have I ever led you astray in terms of a plate of pasta? This is the stuff of legends.”
“I’ll meet you at the subway in ten minutes.”
Gianni, of course, was dead on about the pasta. We ate at the bar, so that we could watch the guys work the pasta station.
Also because the tables were full. I sipped a primitivo; he had rosé. We shared a cauliflower, fennel, celery root and Asian pear salad – all sliced trasparente — which cleansed our palates and sharpened our senses. Then came the spaghetti cacio e pepe and I must say, Gianni was not blowing smoke. This was a first-rate bowl of pasta, which, by the way, we did not share. Neither of us feels particularly comfortable nor genetically directed toward that concept. We each had our own privately owned and controlled bowl.
Cacio e pepe is one of the simplest dishes in the world of cooking – grated cheese, crushed black pepper, spaghetti, water – and salt. Yet there can be wild swings in terms of the finished product – especially when I make it.
Then it occurred to me — as I watched the pasta wizards work the hot tops – the key is the water. These guys use the same water again and again. The pasta goes in, the pasta goes out, but the water stays the same – absorbing more and more gluten as the day goes on. We don’t have that possibility at home — we cook pasta a pound at a time, ladle off a little water into the sauce and then dump the rest down the drain.
So the pros have a big advantage with this dish.
What if we saved our used water in a Tupperware container and put it in the fridge? And the next time we make pasta, we could add, say, half the water from the Tupperware to the new water – and we’d have more gluten. I’m going to try it.