Cook against the clock: cacio e pepe

Join Spinneys Magazine’s Joe Russell as he tests the theory that delicious food can be on the table in under 30 minutes. Will he have the time of his life or go down in flames?

Depending on the activity, doing something for 30 minutes can be a drag – making office small talk, swaying on the metro, listening to Coldplay. But this is never the case with time in the kitchen where the clock ticks at a different tempo. In there, among the pots and pans and panic, seconds and minutes disappear faster than anywhere else.

Or at least that’s the way I see it. For a pretty basic cook like me, 30 minutes results in not much more than soup or a sandwich, a plate of eggs or at a push bowl of pasta. And so I was both curious and suspicious at the sight of so many recipes in this month’s magazine that claimed to be ready in half an hour, sometimes sooner. My first thought – surely not – was quickly followed by my second – well, let’s see.

Throughout this month, I’ll be turning on the kitchen lights, opening the cupboards and raiding the fridge to see how I fare against the clock. To start proceedings, cacio e pepe, ready in 25 minutes. Or so the recipe says…

Of all the dishes in all of the world, cacio e pepe speaks to my soul more than most. There’s spaghetti – not that long ago I was still a student, so I’m on tremendously friendly terms with boiling pasta. There’s butter and parm, too – more than is good for you, some might say, though not me. But I’ve never got around to making the recipe for myself. No time like the present.

Usually I’m not one for a humblebrag, but I was done with this dish a full 11 minutes earlier than the recipe advised I would be. This ranks as my greatest achievement since I was told I’m the dead spit of Jamie Dornan. (Disclaimer: one of those statements is false.) The fast finish was down to absolutely zero skill on my part, just pure greed and personal taste.

The night I made the cacio e pepe I was ravenous, suspended in that state where any food tastes good (lucky, given it was me who was cooking). Fed by this hunger, I decided to streamline the process by prepping the ingredients for the sauce and bringing them together in the pan while the spaghetti boiled away furiously. This saved time, as did my preference for having pasta a good few notches short of al dente. A 60-second ‘Pasta, Sauce; Sauce; Pasta’ meet and greet session in the pan later and the stopwatch was paused just shy of 13 minutes 30 seconds. But the story continued…

Before dinner was really ready, pictures needed to be taken. Why? Because it’s 2017 and if there’s no picture to prove an event took place, it didn’t take place; as evidence that the completion time is legit; to show my Mum I’m eating square meals – and not straight from the pan.

I can say only good things about the result. The dish has gone straight into my (slim) catalogue of go-to midweek meals, especially as I’ll likely always have the ingredients at home, meaning I can more or less launch straight into the recipe.

A flying start then. Next time, I’ll be taking on a dessert. As someone whose experience of cooking sweet food starts and ends at heating a can of custard, I suspect the 30-minute deadline will be pushed to the limit.

P.S. If you want to see how cacio e pepe *should* be done, you can find the recipe here.



Joe Russell is the senior sub-editor for the Spinneys magazine. With a degree in English and love for food, he enjoys little more than sinking his teeth into editing a recipe (and then trying it out at home).