Cacio e Pepe
This authentic Cacio e Pepe recipe requires only 20 minutes and 6 ingredients to make creamy, dreamy pasta WITHOUT any cream! Cacio e Pepe literally means “cheese and pepper,” and this minimalist pasta couldn’t be any easier or more delicious! It’s an Italian favorite originating in Rome that requires technical prowess – but don’t worry, I’ve sorted, tested and experimented with various methods to bring you WHAT WORKS for the creamiest Cacio e Pepe recipe every time. To make Cacio e Pepe, Pecorino Romano is mixed with pasta water, butter and freshly cracked pepper to create a luxuriously emulsified creamy pepper sauce that’s out of this world. Twirl in your pasta and you have dinner on the table in minutes. Cacio Pepe is the ultimate quick and easy dinner the whole family will LOVE, crave and beg for again and again!
Servings Prep Time
2-3 servings 5minutes
Cook Time
15minutes
Servings Prep Time
2-3 servings 5minutes
Cook Time
15minutes
Cacio e Pepe
Ingredients
  • 8ounces spaghettimay sub bucatini
  • 1 1/2teaspoons salt(for pasta water)
  • 3tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 50 turns freshly-cracked coarse black pepper(1 teaspoon)
  • 1 1/2cups finely freshly-grated Pecorino RomanoNOT Parmesan
Instructions
  1. Add 2 quarts water (8 cups) to a Dutch oven (or stockpot wide enough to fit spaghetti). The water will be very shallow because we want it to be very starchy. Cover and bring to a boil. Uncover and stir in salt then add spaghetti. Cook pasta until barely al dente (usually a few minutes less than package directions), stirring often so the spaghetti doesn’t stick. See next step to complete while pasta is cooking.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, melt butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pepper, then cook for one minute. Set aside until pasta is done cooking.
  3. Once pasta is al dente, reserve 1 1/4 cups pasta water, then drain pasta in a colander and set aside.
  4. Slowly whisk in 1 cup reserved pasta water into the butter off heat. Let stand 3 minutes.
  5. Gradually whisk cheese into butter water a little at a time until combined. Turn heat to LOW and whisk constantly until cheese is completely melted and smooth.
  6. Add half of the pasta to the skillet and stir to coat. Add remaining pasta and toss until evenly combined, adding additional pasta water if needed to loosen pasta.
  7. Taste, and season with extra salt and pepper if desired. Serve warm.
Recipe Notes

Tips to Master Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepper is easy WHEN you follow these tips and tricks:

  • Use Pecorino Romano cheese.   Quality, aged Pecorino Romano is quintessential to Cacio e Pepe and results in superior flavor and silkiness AKA far superior pasta.  Cacio e Pepe is literally named after Pecorino Romano (“Cacio” is the local Roman dialect for Pecorino Romano and not Parmesan) – they should not be used interchangeably.  In fact, Pecorino Romano is 3X as flavorful as Parmesan!   Pecorino Romano can be found with the specialty cheeses at your grocery store. Use the best imported Pecorino Romano that you can afford.  You will need 3 oz. which equals 1 ½ cups.
  • Grate cheese yourself.  Freshly-grated Pecorino Romano is a MUST in this Cacio e Pepe recipe. If you use pre-grated cheese, your sauce will by clumpy.  Pre-packaged cheeses are coated with anti-clumping chemicals which inhibit them from melting beautifully.
  • Grate cheese first.  The freshly grated cheese needs to be added to the hot water/butter mixture minutes after the water is added – there is no time to stop and grate your cheese, so take care to grate your cheese before you begin cooking.  You can grate the cheese while the pasta water is coming to a boil but that’s as close as I’d cut it.
  • Use finely grated cheese.  Grate your cheese on the finest holes of your cheese grater, the small, prickly side of the box grater.  We want to produce powdery Pecorino Romano that looks like what comes in the store-bought containers with the green lid.  Cheese that’s grated on larger holes will clump because it takes the cheese longer to melt and the larger amount of surface area allows for more clinging potential.
  • Do NOT adjust the amount of water for cooking the pasta.   The extra starchy pasta water is critical to the success of this Cacio e Pepe recipe. Do NOT increase the amount of water or it will become less starchy.
  • Don’t reserve pasta water early.  The pasta water will become increasingly starchy as it cooks with the pasta so it is critical to not reserve the water before the pasta is done cooking and releasing starch.
  • Salt water.   Salting the pasta water infuses the pasta and the water with flavor which translates to more flavorful Cacio e Pepe.
  • Stir pasta frequently while it cooks. Because we are cooking the pasta in less water than normal, make sure to stir the pasta frequently while cooking so that it doesn’t stick to the pot, this includes multi-tasking while you melt the butter and sauté the pepper.
  • Don’t overcook pasta.   Just like clumpy cheese can ruin Cacio e Pepe, so can mushy pasta.  Make sure to cook your pasta just until barley al dente, meaning it has a bite, this is usually a couple minutes before the box says – so set your timer accordingly.  You want to avoid over-cooking the pasta because it will continue to cook a little when combined with the sauce.
  • How do you know when pasta is done?  The only way to know when your pasta is done is to taste it!  I remove a strand of pasta with a slotted spoon, rinse it in cool water and then taste.  Don’t be tempted to bite into pasta straight from the boiling pot-you will burn your tongue!
  • Let pasta water cool.  Allowing the pasta water to cool for 3 minutes before adding it to the butter prevents it from being too hot when the cheese is added which can cause the cheese to seize.  Instead, resting the water and then gradually melting the cheese over low heat provides a seamless, gradual melting process.
  • Use a large enough pan.  Use a pan that is large enough to eventually hold all of the ingredients, including the pasta, with wiggle room to comfortable twirl and toss without whipping sauce everywhere.
  • Use freshly cracked pepper.  Please do NOT use pre-ground pepper.  Unlike pre-ground pepper, freshly coarsely ground pepper has not been oxidized, or exposed to oxygen, which means it has a richer flavor and tastes worlds better than ground pepper.  Its coarse texture also adds the peppery heat we love in Cacio e Pepe.
  • Toast pepper first, don’t add after. The pepper should be added directly to the butter and olive oil.  Toasting the pepper infuses the sauce with even pepper flavor whereas adding pepper after will not result in as deep of flavor and it will seem like an unevenly distributed after thought as opposed to being one with the sauce.
  • Don’t add cheese all at once.  Slowly whisking the cheese into the sauce a little at a time will help the cheese melt more evenly because it has more liquid to surround it instead of being slammed against surrounding cheese.
  • Don’t confuse cheese not melting with clumping. Your cheese will not magically, instantaneously melt into glossy seduction as soon as it hits the butter/water which is perfectly okay – it will not stay this way.  The cheese will gradually melt as you whisk constantly over low heat.
  • Continue to whisk until cheese is melted.  Your cheese might take more or less than 5 minutes to melt depending on the actual heat of the sauce, quality of cheese and size of pan.  The important thing is to continue to whisk until the cheese has melted – as long or as little time as required.
  • Thin sauce if needed.  If the pasta seems dry after it is combined with the sauce, stir in additional pasta water just a little at a time.
  • Thicken sauce if needed.  If the sauce is still too wet/runny after you add the pasta, gently simmer just until it has reduced enough to cling to the pasta.
  • Let the pasta rest before serving. Letting the dish rest briefly before serving allows he flavors to develop and the sauce to thicken.