Whether store-bought or filled, try adding mushrooms to this classic Roman dish

By Kim Sunee

Updated: 4 hours ago Published: 4 hours ago

Cacio e pepe, literally cheese and pepper, is a beloved pasta dish that originated in Rome because it contains grated pecorino romano cheese and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Coarsely ground pepper is the way to go for this dish as it is toasted and buttery flavored.

With plenty of mushrooms still available, local boletus, hedgehogs and yellow feet have found their way into everything from omelettes to grilled cheese and salads. A quick stir-fry with butter and fresh herbs makes an easy umami accompaniment to roasted fish or meat. To note: Mushrooms are best cleaned with a small, sharp knife (for gentle scraping) and/or a damp cloth rather than soaking them in water. You can also substitute your favorite store-bought mushrooms such as shiitake, oyster, and cremini. In this riff on the Roman dish, finely grated Parmesan goes well with Pecorino Romano and since the mushrooms are cut into substantial pieces, you’ll need a form of pasta with some nooks and crannies – as opposed to spaghetti or capellini delicate, which are better suited to a marinara or cream sauce without much else added. Be sure to time your pasta once the water comes back to a boil and cook it just al dente – you want some bite – as it will finish cooking in the sauce and reserve some pasta cooking water to add to the final dish to help bind the sauce to the pasta itself. Enjoy it hot out of the pan with a little more cheese or red pepper flakes. — Kim Sunee

Makes 3-4 servings

8 ounces of pasta such as penne, rigatoni, farfalle, fusilli, bucatini.

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 ounces diced pancetta or bacon (optional)

8 to 10 ounces mushrooms such as chanterelles, porcini or shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms or cremini (3 to 4 cups packed, chopped), trimmed, cleaned and coarsely chopped

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons coarsely ground fresh black pepper

2 ounces cheese / 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese total and finely grated pecorino cheese

• Bring about three liters of water to a boil (in a 5 liter saucepan) with a little salt. When the water is at full boil, add the pasta and stir. When the water comes back to a full boil, stir again and set the timer; cook (a minute or two less) according to package directions – you want the pasta to be al dente, just tender with a bit of a bite, but not mushy/overcooked as it will continue to cook in the pasta sauce .

• While the pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan (large enough to hold the sauce and pasta) over medium-high heat. If using, add diced pancetta or bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown and crisp, about three to four minutes. If the mushrooms are wet, dry them carefully with paper or a paper towel. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring only once or twice. Cook for about one to two minutes without disturbing and until it starts to brown. Reduce the heat to medium, if necessary, add the garlic and butter and stir. Once the butter has melted, add a teaspoon of pepper and stir. Add just a pinch of salt (bacon/pancetta can be very salty and you will add more later if needed).

• Once the pasta is ready, use a large slotted spoon or a spider ladle/strainer and add the pasta directly to the pan with the mushrooms. Reserve about half a cup of cooking water. Once all the pasta is in the skillet, toss to coat the pasta with the mushroom and black peppercorn sauce. Stir in half the cheese and stir to evenly coat, adding up to 1/4 cup more pasta water if needed. Taste and add more pepper or salt, if needed. Serve immediately with more cheese on top.

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