After two humble pasta dishes from Rome (Carbonara and Amatriciana), this one is even more simple. The sauce is made from only three ingredients: freshly grated pecorino cheese, freshly ground black pepper and a bit of the pasta cooking water. The cheese and starchy cooking water together will form a creamy sauce.
A rule that applies to cooking with simple ingredients and thus applies to most Italian cooking, is that the ingredients must be of excellent quality to let the dish shine. If you think that spaghetti with just cheese and pepper won’t taste good, think again. But don’t even think of making this with pre-ground pepper and grated cheese in a bag from the supermarket, because then it will probably be as bland as it may sound.
It is clear that, unless one is very poor, this is a primo that ought to be followed by a secondo of meat or fish, accompanied by vegetables as contorni.
From a linguistic standpoint it is interesting to note that dish is not called “Spaghetti Formaggio e Pepe”. Although “formaggio” is the general word in Italian for cheese, “cacio” is also used. A cheese factory is called a “caseificio”. There are two words for cheese in European languages, one is cheese/kaas/Käse/queso/cacio/queijo (en/nl/de/sp/it/pt) and the other is formaggio/fromage/formatge (it/fr/catalan). Both come from latin, where cheese was called “caseus formatus”. The first part (“pressed curd”) turned into cacio, and the second (“formed”) into formaggio.
For each person:
75-100 grams spaghetti
40 grams (6 Tbsp) freshly grated pecorino romano
freshly ground black pepper
Boil the spaghetti for the time indicated on the package in salted boiling water.
Grate pecorino while the spaghetti is boiling. Reserve some of the cooking water and drain the spaghetti.
Put the spaghetti in a warm bowl (I just used my plate as I was eating solo).
Add most of the cheese, a few tablespoons of the cooking water and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Mix with a fork. Add a bit more of cheese if it is too wet or a bit more cooking water if it is too dry.
Serve on warm plates, sprinkled with a bit of cheese and a bit of pepper.