Let's be honest, cacio e pepe is adults' mac 'n' cheese. Yes, absolutely it is all about the cheese and the starchy cooking water. BUT, in one pan, with meatballs and all the caramelised bits of crunch and roundness of flavour that adding meatballs provides, well the sacrilege of tradition is worth it.
55g pecorino, finely grated
500g beef mince
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small red onion, finely diced
140g pecorino, finely grated
140g parmesan, finely grated
3 tbsp extra cheese (both) to serve
freshly cracked pepper to serve
1. Preheat oven to 180C.
2. Add the meatball ingredients to a bowl and using your hands, massage to combine. Roll the mixture into meatballs, about the size of golf balls. Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a large ovenproof frypan (roughly 32cm diameter) and cook the meatballs in batches until browned on the outside. Transfer the meatballs to a plate and set the frypan aside.
3. In a separate pot, boil the pasta for two minutes less than specified on the packet. Strain the pasta, reserving 1½ cups of the starchy cooking water.
4. Working quickly, add the cooked pasta and the starchy water to the frypan and sprinkle over the cheese so that it melts. Give the pan a good shake and using tongs, gently toss to coat the spaghetti with the cheese and water. Top with the meatballs – don't panic, the sauce will seem quite watery.
5. Place the frypan in the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Check regularly after the 10-minute mark – you want the sauce to have thickened and reduced to the consistency of cream, the meatballs to have cooked through, and the pasta to be covered in sauce with a few bits taking on the glorious crunch that comes with a bit of time in the oven.
6. To serve, sprinkle over the remaining cheese and generously season with pepper.