Dinner doesn’t have to be expensive. Nor fussy. And even when you think there couldn’t possibly be anything in the pantry that could be pulled into something resembling dinner, there usually is. This pasta cacio e pepe – a classic but utterly simple Italian dish (translation: cheese and pepper pasta) can be made with any kind of dry pasta you have on the shelf, and if you have them, beans. (Fagioli.) Two of the most inexpensive, easily stored ingredients – convenience food of the very best kind.
OK, I may have completely butchered the name, not being actually fluent in Italian. But it does sound mighty sophisticated, doesn’t it? The pepper must be freshly ground—it’s toasted first in olive oil to maximize flavour and infuse the oil with pepperiness. If you want to add the legume component, any small white bean or black-eyed peas work well in this – or swap green peas. Besides Parmesan, feel free to play around with other intensely flavoured cheeses. This pasta is about as fast and cheap as you can do for dinner. It’s real fast food.
Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe e Fagioli
You really don’t need a recipe for this – I trust you to wing it.
½ to 1 lb spaghetti
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, or as much as you like
1 cup cooked white beans or black-eyed peas, or half a 19 oz (540 mL) can, rinsed and drained (optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, Pecorino, or Romano cheese, plus extra for serving if you like
In a large pot of salted water, cook the pasta according to package directions. Before draining, reserve a cup of the cooking water.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet set over medium-high heat and grind in the pepper. Cook for a few minutes, until the pepper is fragrant. Add the beans and cook for a few minutes, to heat through; add the pasta and toss, adding cheese and pasta water until you have a nice creamy sauce.
Serve immediately, topped with extra cheese and pepper, if you like. Serves 4 to 6.