Za’atar cacio e pepe

Ingredients

Salt
400g dried bucatini (or other long pasta – adjust the cooking time, if necessary)
50g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
10g za’atar, plus 1½ tsp extra to serve
2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
130g parmesan, very finely grated
30g pecorino romano, very finely grated
2½ tbsp olive oil
2 tsp picked marjoram leaves (optional)

Za’atar cacio e pepe

Prep 10 min
Cook 35 min
Serves 4

I know I’ve messed with an Italian classic here, but the za’atar does get along very well with the pepper and cheese. The technique for getting cacio e pepe right isn’t complicated, but it’s essential that you follow it to a T to ensure a smooth, rich sauce. It’s also essential to use a wide pan and little water to cook the pasta in, because that ensures there’s enough starch to emulsify the sauce. Grate the cheeses as finely as possible (if you have one, a Microplane grater is ideal here), so they melt happily into the sauce.

In a wide pan on a medium-high heat, bring 1.3 litres of water to a boil, then season with three-quarters of a teaspoon of salt. Add the bucatini and cook for nine minutes, until al dente, stirring every now and then so the pasta doesn’t stick together or to the bottom of the pan, and to ensure it remains fully submerged. Drain the pasta, and reserve all the cooking water – you should have about 520ml left; if not, top up with a little hot water.

In a large, high-sided, nonstick saute pan on a high heat, melt the butter until bubbling, then add the za’atar and pepper, and cook, stirring, for a minute, until fragrant. Add the reserved cooking water, bring to a rapid boil and cook for five minutes, until it reduces a little and turns silky. Stir the pasta vigorously into the sauce, then add the parmesan in two batches, continuing to stir vigorously as you go, and waiting until the first half has melted in before adding the next. Once all the parmesan has melted, add the pecorino, continuing to stir until it has also melted and the sauce is smooth and silky. Transfer to a lipped platter, finish with the oil, marjoram (if using), the remaining za’atar and a small pinch of salt, and serve at once.