Cacio e pepe has staunchly Roman roots, but Dova chef Roberto Marotta is a proud Sicilian. So when he was planning the menu for his Cabbagetown sequel to King East’s Ardo, he devised a homage to the punchy pasta infused with a Sicilian sensibility. Marotta uses fresh ricotta—a go-to from his youth thanks to the cooking of his grandmother, Nonna Maria—to bind the pasta while offering a mellow counterpoint to the snap of the pepper. “It’s a pretty simple recipe,” Marotta says, “but it’s more difficult to put together a simple dish. When you use fewer ingredients, you have to balance every single element to get a proper result.” The dish is a staple of Dova’s takeout menu, where it can be paired with wood-fired pizzas, family style lasagna kits and wines from Italy and beyond. For a DIY pasta night, here’s how Marotta makes it.
Makes one portion:
100 g fresh or dry spaghetti, ideally a thicker noodle like spaghettoni
80 g fresh ricotta cheese
30 g Sicilian pecorino, grated
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Note: fresh ricotta and Sicilian pecorino can be found at St. Lawrence Market, Cheese Boutique and Eataly. If you’re using pecorino Romano, which is saltier than the Sicilian kind, slightly reduce the amount of salt in the pasta water. If using store-bought ricotta, add a splash of water to loosen it up before incorporating.
1. Season a pot of water with salt. “Imagine having a little sip of ocean water,” Marotta says of how the salted water should taste. He uses approximately 3.5 grams of sea salt for every litre of water.
2. Bring water to a boil, add pasta, and cook for one minute less than indicated by the directions on the packaging.
3. Meanwhile, in a large pan, toast a quarter of a teaspoon of the black pepper on high heat for one minute, or until fragrant. Toasting amplifies the flavour of the pepper.
4. Add two teaspoons of pasta water to the pan to quickly stop the pepper from toasting. Turn off the heat.
5. Add the ricotta and whisk to combine, adding a few more teaspoons of pasta water until the sauce thins to a consistency slightly denser than whipping cream.
6. Drain the pasta and add to the pan. Coat the noodles in the sauce and add the grated pecorino.
7. Plate the noodles and finish with the remaining black pepper.