Farro e Pepe
While cacio e pepe, the classic Roman dish, is simple — made with only pasta and its cooking water; cacio, or Pecorino Romano; and abundant freshly ground black pepper — it’s not always easy to make. The trick to getting a thick, creamy sauce lies in combining the cheese and pepper with starchy pasta water in just the right way; this usually requires a lot of erratic stirring and sweat. This version bucks tradition in favor of simplicity and, well, farro. The technique for the cheese paste comes from Flavio de Maio, a master of cucina Romana and producer of one of Rome’s most beloved bowls of cacio e pepe. Simply blend grated cheese and a little cold water with freshly ground pepper until they come together into a creamy paste. Then toss a spoonful or two into just-cooked farro and watch it melt like butter to coat the grains in a layer of salt, pepper, richness and tang. The farro’s chewy, satisfying texture is a perfect foil for the creaminess of the sauce. Keep the leftover paste in the fridge — stir a spoonful into grits, toss it with boiled green beans and, of course, use it for a bowl of cacio e pepe. Use the technique with other hard cheeses: Asiago, Parmesan and even clothbound Cheddar make for fantastic versions.
- Serves: 4 persons
- Sea salt
- 2cups semi-pearled or pearled farro (about 13 1/2 ounces)
- 7 ½ounces Pecorino Romano, finely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 ¼teaspoons coarsely grated black pepper, plus more for serving
- ¼cup cold water, plus more if needed
Step 1Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season generously with salt until the water is as salty as the sea. Add farro, and cook until al dente, about 15 to 18 minutes. Set a colander in the sink.
Step 2In the meantime, place pecorino and pepper in a medium bowl, and add ¼ cup cold water. Use an immersion blender to combine into a thick, smooth paste. Add more cold water if needed, one tablespoon at a time, to encourage blending. If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a food processor for this step.
Step 3When the farro is cooked, reserve 1 1/2 cups cooking water; transfer farro to colander to drain, then return to pot. Add 3/4 cup pecorino paste and 1/2 cup reserved cooking water, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until cheese melts and coats farro with a glossy sheen. Taste, and add cooking water and more pecorino paste to taste until farro is the consistency of a loose risotto. If farro is properly seasoned but too thick, add warm tap water instead of salted cooking water to loosen.
Step 4Serve immediately, garnished with more pepper. Cover and refrigerate any remaining pecorino paste for up to 1 week. Use on pasta, farro or rice, or spread on toast.