We spend a lot of our time at home pinging like little pinballs between the television in the living room and the kitchen stove. There are some side trips to the laundry room to wash loads of laundry, and to the garage to deposit wine bottles in the recycling bin. That’s because we are leading an elegant home-bound pandemic life, dressed in our finest yoga pants and shapeless sweatshirts. Cooking, washing, eating, watching television. Thank goodness that Stanley Tucci has come along, to take us to Italy, at least on Sunday nights.
Stanley Tucci: nattily dressed, in scarves and jackets, slim and twinkling, is our cicerone to Italy. Remember travel? Remember getting gussied up to go some place? With vaccines on the horizon we have started to think of places we would like to go, and with Stanley Tucci beaming at us every week, the list is growing. Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy on CNN is an exploration of different regions and foods. Armchair travel is an excellent way to explore the world, but it leaves us yearning – with whetted appetites for someplace new and exotic. Thank goodness there is pasta.
Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy https://www.cnn.com/videos/foodanddrink/2021/02/19/searching-for-italy-rome-2.cnn
It has taken me all winter to finally master this deceptively simple pasta recipe: https://www.thekitchn.com/samin-nosrat-pasta-cacio-e-pepe-22949332
It was worth the effort. It has amused me to stumble on this dish, only to find it everywhere. We first encountered it watching Samin Nosrat’s charming Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat series on Netflix. (https://www.netflix.com/title/80198288) I used to make a stodgy Fettuccini Alfredo with an extensive list of ingredients, back in our misguided youth. We are now Cacio e pepe converts.
I am always looking to simplify. Cacio e pepe satisfies our need for comforting, warming pasta, with fewer trips to the grocery store. It can be assembled quickly, whenever the yearning overcomes us. Spaghetti, black pepper and Pecorino cheese and olive oil all have long shelf lives. I was stupified to discover a pasta dish that didn’t need garlic!
When I walk Luke the wonder dog I listen to podcasts, because heaven knows what I would do with half an hour of my own thoughts. I enjoy the Table Manners podcast, as I have mentioned here before. There is nothing more cheering than listening to a couple of Brits nattering about their childhood lunches and their favorite meals. Trotting along behind the sniffing Luke, I listened to a guest, Elizabeth Olsen, chattering away with Jessie Ware and her mother about how much she enjoyed making cacio e pepe, because she enjoyed eating it at a very swanky Beverly Hills eatery. Jessie Ware asked her if it was hard to get the sauce to emulsify, and Elizabeth Olsen was stumped. She had skipped that step. Well, she is an actress, and not a cook. And the emulsification step is a little tricky.
And maybe Elizabeth Olsen had only cooked cacio e pepe once or twice. I have cooked it at least a dozen times now (I’ll do almost anything to avoid the grocery store – and Monday night is always Pasta Night in our house) and I think I can finally say that I have just mastered emulsification. And it is tricky damn woo. So when you get to that step, take your time. Add the starchy cooking water gradually. And stir, stir, stir. It makes a difference. You’ll get there.
I tried a variation on cacio e pepe recently. It is not for timid souls. I doubt if I will try it again. It called for using red pepper flakes instead of black pepper. It was fiery. But it did have lots of garlic. https://www.food.com/recipe/olive-oil-garlic-and-crushed-red-pepper-pasta-sauce-295835
Spring is on its way. So are the vaccines. While you wait, listen to a podcast or two. Try something new for dinner. Watch Stanley Tucci and Samin Nosrat and dream of warm Italian nights, sitting in a piazza, under strings of lights, drinking a nice rustic red with your friends and family. Bliss.
“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”
Don’t forget to watch Stanley Tucci in two other calorie-laden films: Big Night and Julie and Julia.