It's time for another round of The Food Lab. Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.
This is an ultra-quick recipe that's roughly based off of pasta cacio e pepe—the Roman dish of pasta tossed with Pecorino Romano and lots of black pepper. It's a late night, quick fill'er up specialty popular amongst the tight-jeaned Euro club crowd and the old folks alike. A cheaper, quicker, and easier version of the already super cheap, quick, and easy carbonara, if you will.
The key to great cacio e pepe is to use plenty of starchy pasta water to loosen up the sauce, and to make sure that you don't overheat the cheese. It has a tendency to clump together if it gets too hot and its protein structure becomes too tight. After cooking the pasta, I toss it off heat with the cheese, some extra butter to keep things smooth and emulsified, and a good glug or two of pasta water (and of course, plenty of black pepper).
With plenty of asparagus in my pantry, it seemed only natural to me that some of it should make its way into the dish. After all, black pepper and cheese are flavors that do remarkably well with sweet, tender asparagus. A few thin slices of bacon (you can use pancetta or guanciale or nothing at all if you want to be extra fancy or vegetarian) along with some sliced spring onions and jalapeño peppers complement everything nicely, upping the savoriness of an already tough-to-put-dow-until-the-bowl-is-done dish. I sautéed the onion whites in the rendered bacon fat, saving the greens to toss in with the jalapeño at the end.
As a finishing touch, lemon zest, parsley, and a splash of juice brightens the whole deal. Two pots, under 30 minutes, and some seriously good springtime eating.
Get The Recipe!
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.