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A trendy yet simple pasta dish that’s loaded with black pepper, cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) is appearing on restaurant menus everywhere. Its growing popularity is a long way from its humble origins as a dish shepherds would cook while out in the Roman countryside. Cooking some dry pasta, they would make a trail-side sauce by mixing pecorino—a cheese made from sheep’s milk—with the starchy cooking water. Rome’s answer to macaroni and cheese can be tricky to perfect, but, once you’ve mastered the technique, you will be able to transform a few kitchen staples into a luxurious and filling dish.
Recipe: Cacio e Pepe
- 8 oz (250 g) long, dry pasta, such as spaghetti, bucatini or linguine
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 1 to 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 1 1/2 Cups finely grated pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, or until al dente. Before draining, set aside about a cup of the starchy cooking water. As the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a large skillet (one that will accommodate your pasta) over medium heat. Grind in a generous amount of pepper and allow it to toast for about a minute. Add the butter and about quarter cup of the water and whisk it together.
Tip: Using less cooking water will make it starchier; stir often to keep pasta from clumping.
2. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet (or transfer it using tongs). Add the cheese and toss it all together, adding a splash more of the cooking water until it emulsifies and turns into a creamy sauce. Serve immediately.
Tip: Grate the cheese as finely as you can to help it melt more smoothly.