When it comes to simplicity, Italian food is near the top of the list. It's amazing that just a few ingredients can produce such delicious results. This vegetarian cacio e pepe polenta is a twist on the famous Italian cacio e pepe pasta, but uses the same simple flavors of Pecorino Romano cheese and freshly ground black pepper.
The recipe below is a nod to tradition while still evolving dishes with new ingredients. Pecorino Romano is a hard sheep's milk cheese, so it adds an extra layer of "funk" that is intensely flavorful when you take a bite. The creaminess of the polenta is the perfect vehicle to allow you and your friends to taste each ingredient individually.
Cacio e pepe polenta
1 cup polenta (not quick-cooking)
4 cups water
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring 4 cups of salted water to a rolling boil in a large saucepan. Slowly pour polenta into the water, whisking constantly until all the polenta has been poured in and there are no lumps.
Reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking frequently, until the polenta starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Cover the saucepan, and allow the polenta to cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The polenta is ready when the consistency is smooth and the individual grains are cooked. Remove polenta from the heat.
Add butter to the polenta, and whisk until incorporated. Slowly add the Pecorino cheese to the polenta, and whisk until melted and smooth. Taste the polenta, and adjust the seasoning with salt and lots of black pepper. Stir.
Transfer polenta to a large serving dish. Garnish with more Pecorino cheese and more fresh-ground black pepper on top. Serve using a large serving spoon onto individual plates.
Pro-tip: Don't have Pecorino Romano on hand? You can easily substitute grated Parmigiano Reggiano instead.