Tonnarelli cacio e pepe, a seemingly humble yet flavor-packed pasta creation, is “a true classic dish with a small twist,” says Jes Bengtson, executive chef at Amis Trattoria in Westport. “You taste every flavor and texture intended.” Eschewing traditional red sauce in favor of buttery-cheesy goodness, the dish features a simple palette with flecks of vibrant color, the “twist” Bengtson mentions. “I adore not only the pop of color the pink peppercorns bring, but that slightly sweet berry flavor matched up against the salty Parmesan is music to my ears.”
Pasta satisfies the soul and provides a perfect meal to enjoy with others. “Nothing is more heartwarming than a bowl of homemade cheesy pasta,” Bengtson says. “It’s also easy to make in large batches.”
Bengtson began cooking at 16. “I was tossed into the adrenaline, excitement and fear of a line on a Friday-night dinner service. The excitement I felt when it was over — I wanted the feeling back.” She’s had that feeling plenty since then, including at Amis Trattoria, which she took over last summer.
But it was all upended by the coronavirus crisis this spring. Like many other restaurants, Amis Trattoria closed temporarily. “You cook food because you like to make people happy, and watching them enjoy and gather in your space and eat your food is the best part. Amis was really just finding a groove and very close to a new brand re-launch which is now on hold.” She hopes restaurants and businesses can soon get back to some semblance of order. “I believe we will see some good change through these times, but I am dreaming of the day of seeing our dining room buzzing on a Friday night, the calm of a Sunday brunch, the resting day of a Monday.”
Tonnarelli cacio e pepe
Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
Chef’s tip: Save the pasta water and use it wisely. “Make sure your water is ‘salted like the sea,’ ” Bengtson says. “Use it to loosen up that sauce because that starch makes your dish come alive!”
- 24 ounces spaghetti (fresh pasta cooks faster)
- 1½ tablespoons kosher salt
- 4 teaspoons fresh-cracked pink peppercorn (you can use table pepper, but for best taste, use fresh peppercorns from a pepper mill)
- 15 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
- 3 cups grated Parmesan cheese
Boil about 6 quarts of water in a saucepot, adding salt before the pasta (less water can be used, but you may need to stir more frequently). Cook approximately 5 minutes until the pasta is very, very al dente (extra firm to the bite), saving one cup of the pasta water.
Toast pepper in a large dry sauté pan for 30 seconds. Add
½ cup of the pasta cooking water and butter. Let simmer.
Add the remaining pasta and toss all ingredients together. Add cheese and mix again until nicely blended, adding more pasta water as needed until it becomes a creamy sauce.
Toss to incorporate all ingredients and garnish with fresh grated cheese and a sprinkle of pepper.