It’s one of life’s many known (and frankly, pretty obvious) rules; a lot like “no white after labor day,” or “beer before liquor”: don’t try out a recipe for the first time at a dinner party. It makes sense, right? If you burn the casserole because you’ve never used your oven before, then your guests are going home hungry…not cool. So what did I do? Obviously the opposite.
Last year I had a friend over for dinner, and because I thought my culinary skills were superior, I not only attempted a recipe for the first time, I attempted one of the hardest dishes ever: cacio e pepe. It’s only 3 ingredients, so how could it possibly go wrong? Well…the answer is: lots of ways. It’s the seemingly simple recipes that sneak up on you and ruin an evening.
I was working off of Bon Apetit’s recipe which calls for a thin pasta, unsalted butter, salt, pepper, and two different kinds of cheeses. Essentially, you make the pasta, and then add in all the other ingredients quickly. The end result is supposed to be a creamy, gooey, slightly spicy, and soul satisfying pasta dish. The key to a successful Cacio e Pepe dish is all about your mise en place, (meaning everything in it’s place) all the ingredients prepped, grated, cracked and ready to go. So once everything is in it’s place, and the pasta is cooked perfectly, you strain it (holding on to a few cups of warm pasta water), place it in a pan with melted butter and toasted black pepper, then slowly but surely stir in the cheese, and add in water every so often to create the creamy consistency. The dish calls for preparedness and timing…two things I apparently don’t have…and if all else fails, you better hope you grow two extra sets of arms to stir, pour, grate, and one hand to hold onto a glass of wine to ease the pain.
What did I end up with for my poor husband and unsuspecting friend? A huge brick of gloppy, peppered cheese that sat in our stomachs uncomfortably the rest of the night. Everyone was nice enough about it, they smiled and chewed…and chewed…and chewed. I drowned my sorrows with a glass of Chianti the size of my face. The lesson here – be a good friend, and test out a recipe before you inflict any pain and suffering on your guests, and if you don’t – at least have the perfect wine for pairing.