On a gorgeous sunny day at the end of June we couldn’t resist going for a drive to Pienza, in the Val d’Orcia, only 40 minutes away by car from our B&B. We always really enjoy that drive, past Montepulciano, into the Val d’Orcia, the winding lanes going uphill until you see Pienza in the distance, towering over the valley. We were on a mission to buy the typical ‘Pecorino stagionato di Pienza’ (matured Pecorino from Pienza) in order to cook the famous recipe ‘Cacio e Pepe’ which we love to eat with gnocchetti, a smaller version of gnocchi, and which we love sharing with you. ‘Pecorino’ cheese is a cheese made from sheep’s milk. It is found in the following regions in Italy: Tuscany, Lazio, Sardinia but also Umbria and Sicily. Pienza is renowned for its production of Pecorino, though. Throughout this stunning UNESCO World Heritage town, which is one of my favourite towns in Tuscany, there are little shops that sell all kinds of Pecorino (different stages of maturation and flavours), but all of it is the Pecorino produced in the Val d’Orcia.
In the restaurants you see a lot of dishes called ‘Cacio e Pepe’. The original ‘Cacio e Pepe’ recipe is actually Roman, using Pecorino Romano (from the region Lazio). In Pienza they use their own Pecorino of course! ‘Cacio e pepe’ means ‘Cheese and Pepper’. Great cheese fans that we are, of course we fell in love when we first tasted this dish. There is also a wonderful pizzeria; if you enter through the old town gate with the lovely flowers on top, it’s right on your left, called ‘Pizzeria Pommaro’. Here you can eat the most scrumptious pizza with fresh local Pecorino you have ever tasted.
But as far as home cooking with Pecorino goes, this ‘Cacio e Pepe’ dish comes close to being just as delicious. At home, while we were cooking the recipe, we cheated a little and didn’t grate the Pecorino. Because it was very fresh and soft, we crumbled it with our fingers. In Holland we have an expression ‘om je vingers erbij op te eten’ which roughly translates as ‘to eat your fingers along with it’, meaning that a dish is really really tasty. If you try it, let us know what you think of it!
GNOCCHETTI CACIO E PEPE
This is the traditional recipe. The secret of this recipe is the creamy sauce, created simply by the combination of the starch in the pasta and the cooking water. We use shop-bought fresh gnocchetti, because it is excellent and saves a lot of time and effort.
a large chunk of Pecorino di Pienza
Fresh gnocchetti (about 600 gr)
Black pepper corns
Grate the Pecorino finely. Using a pestle and mortar, grind the black pepper corns, then sieve them. Heat the black pepper in a pan on the stove for a short while.
Bring 1 litre of water to the boil in a large pan. When the water is boiling, add the gnocchetti. Have a bowl ready, put the grated Pecorino in with a little bit of the pepper.
The gnocchetti only need 1 min to cook. When they’re cooked they float to the surface. Spoon them into a different bowl, set aside.
Pour a few spoonfuls of cooking water into the bowl with Pecorino and pepper and stir until you get a creamy sauce. Add more cooking water if needed. There should be no lumps.
Transfer the gnocchetti into the bowl with the creamy sauce and stir carefully. Spoon onto a plate and sprinkle over the pepper and grate over a little extra Pecorino. Enjoy!