Cacio E Pepe with Stinging Nettle Pasta

 In past posts I have talked about gathering stinging nettles and saving them for later use. This is one of those later uses. I usually gather up a few pounds of nettles and then sauté them with butter and a pinch of salt then puree them in a food processor. to store them I pour the puree into an ice cube tray and then freeze the puree, that way when I want to use some of the puree to make Gnocchi or pasta all I have to do is thaw out a few cubes and I am all set.

Typically when I make pasta I just make big sheets of pasta and make ravioli or agnalotti. I have stayed away from the long noodle pastas for no real reason other than I am a little intimidated by them, stemming from one bad experience years ago when they stuck together so badly I ended up with a giant ball of cooked pasta. I know I shouldn't let past failures keep me from trying things but they do and I don't know why.

A couple of months ago my daughter thought it would be a fun activity for her and I to make some spaghetti and since I am powerless against her charms I found myself making spaghetti. It really isn't a difficult process and if you flour the noodles adequately they don't stick together at all. I really should remember that just because it was difficult once doesn't mean it is always going to be that way.

After making the spaghetti with my daughter we boiled it up and cooked it exactly the way she likes it. With butter, a little black pepper and lots of Parmesan. Only after making this spaghetti with her did I realize that my little girls favorite way to eat pasta was Cacio E Pepe. Cacio is a Roman dish that is basically noodles, black pepper , and Pecorino Romano with a little butter. It is one of my favorite snacks and often I will make it when no one else is home because I love a lot of black pepper in mine and the rest of the family doesn't. Cacio E Pepe may have a simple ingredient list but it isn't a simple dish. If you don't pay attention and over cook it even a little bit the cheese will clump together and you will end up with large rubbery pieces of cheese mixed in with your pasta.

I decided after making spaghetti with my daughter that I wanted to try to make spaghetti with a nettle pasta and of course then make Cacio with the nettle pasta. Now I have eaten Cacio probably a few hundred times and I have used everything from Buccatini to ramen noodles and I can say with 100% certainty that Cacio was meant for Nettle pasta. The flavor of the noodle when accompanied by the cheese, butter and of course lots of black pepper made this, the best plate of Cacio E pepe I have ever eaten.

Nettle Pasta

This will make enough spaghetti for 2 large portions or 4 small portions

2 egg yolks
1/2 cup nettle puree
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
pinch of salt

Make a mound of flour in the middle of a large surface and make a well in the middle. Stir the yolks and nettles together and pour into the well. Add the pinch of salt and then with your fingers start to stir the nettle puree into the flour and work it all together until you get one ball of dough. If it is to dry add a few drops of water at a time until you get a dough with the consistency of Play-dough. once you have reached this point the possibilities are endless. using a pasta roller make your sheets of pasta dough first then feed the sheets into the cutter to make the noodles.

To Make the Cacio E pepe

4 ounces of noodles
2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano
1/2 cup of the pasta water after cooking
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

When the noodles are cooked set them aside to drain and reserve the 1/2 cup of pasta water. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat and add the black pepper and cook for 30 seconds. Add the noodle and toss with the butter and the black pepper. Stir in the grated cheese and then add the hot pasta water. Remove from the heat and stir vigorously until the cheese and water have made a light sauce and coated the noodles. Serve Immediately.