Rome’s classic pasta combination of spaghetti, pecorino cheese, and black pepper can be a bit tricky to make at home but give it a whirl. All it takes is a little practice and some elbow grease to make a luscious, cheesy dish of pasta. Spaghetti and tonnarelli—thick, square-cut noodles—are my two favorite shapes, but rigatoni and bucatini (fat, hollow noodles) are also good.
1poundpackage spaghetti,tonnarelli or bucatini pasta
4ouncesPecorino Romano cheese,finely grated
Salt the water: Fill a large pot with water, and set it over high heat. Bring it to a boil and add two teaspoons of salt.
Boil the pasta: Add the pasta to the boiling water, reduce heat to medium high and cook according to package instructions until the pasta al dente.
Grate the cheese: While the pasta is cooking, grate the cheese with a microplane or on the small star holes of a box grater. You should have about 3 cups of very fluffy cheese.
Toast and grind the peppercorns: In a small skillet set over medium-high heat, add the peppercorns. Toast the peppercorns, stirring occasionally or just until they release their aroma. Cool slightly, then transfer them to a mortar or a spice grinder. Pound or grind the peppercorns to a mostly coarse grind with some finer specks but no large pieces.
Drain and reserve pasta water: When the pasta is done, set a colander over a bowl, and drain the pasta. You want to reserve 1 ½ cups of the boiling pasta water in a heat-proof measuring cup or bowl.
Make the sauce: Do this part quickly! Return the pasta to the cooking pot and add ⅓ cup reserved pasta water. Set the pot on the burner but don’t turn the burner on. Sprinkle about ⅓ of the cheese, 2 teaspoons pepper, and a splash of the reserved pasta water. Use tongs or a pasta spork to stir vigorously to combine the ingredients. Add another splash of reserved pasta water and another ⅓ of the cheese and continue to stir to coat the noodles evenly. The sauce should look smooth and creamy. Add more cooking water, a splash at a time (if necessary) to loosen the sauce. You may not use all of the pasta water.
Serve: Transfer the pasta to individual bowls. Top each serving with a spoonful of reserved pecorino and a pinch of pepper and serve.