Someone needs to pitch a tv show to The Food Network called “Cheese Wars” in which Italian women battle it out over the virtues of Parmigiano Reggiano v Pecorino Romano. It would rival The Real Housewives for guilty pleasure entertainment!!!!
I’m absolutely sure of it.
I say this because my mother threw an absolute fit when she was over on Easter and found out I had pecorino in my fridge. This woman does not cook, but she is 100% southern Italian and it shows.
Personally, I prefer parmigiano-reggiano as an every day put-on-all-the-things grating cheese myself. Probably because I never ate pecorino as a child (see above for my mother’s volatile reaction to even the thought of me consuming it), so it just doesn’t seem to me to melt into pasta the same way that parmigiano does.
BUT there is certainly a time and a place for pecorino in everyone’s life, no matter which region of Italy you’re from, and it is called cacio e pepe!!
Roughly translated to “cheese and pepper”, it is probably one of the most basic of Italian pasta dishes but also one of the most classic. It relies heavily on the sharp, salty, and pungent flavor of pecorino romano to coat the pasta and then more black pepper than you could fathom that you need is added for a spicy bite. Despite my mother insisting otherwise, parmigiano would just not taste right here – it requires pecorino all the way, and lots of it.
Because I can’t be trusted with traditional recipes, I added a spring twist to it with the addition of asparagus and white beans. Especially if you use really good from-scratch white beans (I used the Marcella bean from Rancho Gordo), they kind of melt into the sauce and it tastes all kinds of comforting.
I also went out on a limb and veered away from the traditional spaghetti/bucatini/linguine pasta shape, choosing instead to use the new-to-me capunti pasta that I picked up at Trader Joe’s. I suspect that many other pasta shapes would work well here, especially ones with little crevices in them to capture the sauce (orecchiette, I’m looking at you!).
- 6 oz pecorino romano cheese, 4 oz finely grated and 2 oz coarsely grated, divided
- 1 tbsp + 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
- 2 cups cooked white beans
- 1 lb pasta (I used capunti from Trader Joe's)
- salt, to taste
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 1½ tsp finely ground black pepper
- Place the finely grated pecorino in a bowl and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves to the pan and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the asparagus to the pan and cook until crisp-tender, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in the white beans and cook until just warmed through, about 1 minute. Set aside.
- Heat 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the pasta and 1½ tsp salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until it is al dente or to desired consistency. Drain, reserving 1½ cups of the cooking water. Place the pasta in a large bowl.
- Slowly whisk 1 cup of the reserved pasta water into the bowl of finely grated pecorino, mixing until smooth. Whisk in the cream, 2 tsp olive oil, and black pepper. Pour the cheese mixture over the pasta and toss gently until combined. Stir in the asparagus and white beans. Let it rest for 1-2 minutes, adding the extra pasta water as needed if it seems too dry. Serve with the coarsely grated pecorino to garnish.
My favorite asparagus recipes: