Cacio e Pepe

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Cacio e pepe, or pasta with Pecorino Romano cheese and fresh black pepper, proves that simple is often best.

One of the simplest pasta dishes in existence, cacio e pepe is a Roman dish that translates to “cheese and pepper” (it’s pronounced kaa-chee-ow-ee-peh-pay). It is traditionally made from just three ingredients – coarsely grated black pepper, finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and pasta – but many versions also call for a bit of olive oil, butter, or cream. The magic happens when some of the starchy, salty pasta cooking water is added to these basic ingredients to make a rich, creamy sauce. Think of it as an uncomplicated, peppery Italian mac and cheese. This version is adapted from That Noodle Life: Soulful, Savory, Spicy, Slurpy, a deliciously fun new cookbook by Mike and Stephanie Le from iamafoodblog. The recipe feeds two since it’s the perfect no-food-in-the-house dinner or late-night snack to throw together on a whim, but it can easily be doubled.

The original recipe in the book is made using the traditional method of slowly adding the cheese and pasta water to the cooked noodles, stirring constantly to emulsify the sauce. This technique takes practice, as the cheese tends to clump up and stick to the pan if it gets too hot. To ensure a creamy sauce, I borrow a trick from Italian chef Luciano Monosilio and blitz the pasta water and cheese in a blender before adding it to the pasta. You still have to be careful not to overheat the sauce, but not nearly as much so.

What You’ll Need To Make Cacio e Pepe

ingredients for cacio e pepe

Pasta: The recipe calls for either bucatini (also known as perciatelli) or spaghetti. Bucatini resembles spaghetti but is slightly thicker and has a small hole that runs through the center, so it is essentially hollow spaghetti (buco actually translates to “hole”). Bucatini is ideal for soaking up the sauce, but spaghetti is a great alternative if you can’t find it.

Cheese: Pecorino Romano is a salty, sharp-flavored cheese made from sheep’s milk. It can be found in most supermarkets near the Parmigiano-Reggiano. While the two cheeses are sometimes interchangeable in recipes, I recommend sticking with the Pecorino Romano here, as it has a bolder flavor.

Pepper: Make sure to use freshly ground black pepper – it’s significantly more flavorful than pre-ground pepper –  and set your grinder to the coarsest setting. As for the amount, I’ve given a range depending on how peppery you like your pasta.

Butter: While not a traditional ingredient in cacio e pepe, the butter is used to “bloom” the fresh ground pepper before mixing it in with the pasta. It also makes for a creamier sauce without diluting the other flavors.

Step-by-Step Instructions

In a Dutch oven or large pot, bring 2 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente.

boiling the pasta

Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain.
drained pasta and reserved pasta water

Set the same pot over low heat and melt the butter. Add the pepper.

butter and pepper in pot

Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.

stirring butter and pepper

Add the drained pasta to the pot and toss to coat evenly. Remove the pot from the heat.

tossing pasta with butter and pepper

In a blender, combine the cheese and ⅔ cup of the pasta cooking water.

cheese and pasta water in blender

Blend until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds.

blended cacio e pepe sauce

Add the sauce to the pasta in the pot and toss with tongs.

sauce poured over pasta

Place the pot back over low heat and cook, stirring constantly with the tongs, until the sauce is the consistency of a thin cream sauce, a few minutes. Add more of the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce only if necessary. Be careful at this stage: if the sauce gets too hot, it will start to clump up and stick to the pot and tongs.

tossing pasta with sauce over low heat

Once the sauce is the right consistency, immediately transfer the pasta to bowls and serve. Pass more cheese and pepper at the table, if desired.

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Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e pepe, or pasta with Pecorino Romano cheese and fresh black pepper, proves that simple is often best.

Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 Minutes
Cook Time: 20 Minutes
Total Time: 25 Minutes

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 8 oz bucatini or spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1½ - 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, depending on how peppery you like your pasta
  • 1 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Instructions

  1. In a Dutch oven or large pot, bring 2 quarts of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and drain.
  2. Set the same pot over low heat and melt the butter. Add the pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the drained pasta to the pot and toss to coat evenly. Remove the pot from the heat.
  3. In a blender, combine the cheese and ⅔ cup of the pasta cooking water. Blend until smooth and creamy, 10 to 15 seconds. Add the sauce to the pasta in the pot and toss with tongs. Place the pot back over low heat and cook, stirring constantly with the tongs, until the sauce is the consistency of a thin cream sauce, a few minutes. Add more of the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce only if necessary. Be careful at this stage: if the sauce gets too hot, it will start to clump up and stick to the pot and tongs. Once the sauce is the right consistency, immediately transfer the pasta to bowls and serve. Pass more cheese and pepper at the table, if desired.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (2 servings)
  • Calories: 785
  • Fat: 31 g
  • Saturated fat: 19 g
  • Carbohydrates: 89 g
  • Sugar: 4 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 36 g

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • Wowza! Your recipes are amazing, so I wasn’t surprised that we loved it – I was just not expecting all that flavor from just a few ingredients!! This is the perfect weeknight dinner because it’s fast and easy to make. My husband grilled some Italian sausage and we made a side salad – delicious, thanks, Jenn. 🤗

    • — Ingrid on July 10, 2022
    • Reply
  • Does it has to be pasta water? Can it be normal drinking water? I can’t use hot water in my blender (I would need to use room temp water). Thanks

    • — Colleen on June 17, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Colleen, regular water won’t work but you can replace the pasta water with cream. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on June 18, 2022
      • Reply
  • I would like to try this with linguine. Do you think it would work well?

    Thank you.

    • — Jan on May 24, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, Jan, this will work with linguine. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 24, 2022
      • Reply
  • Quick and easy meal that is awesome!

    • — Cassandra on May 7, 2022
    • Reply
  • Made this last night and it was great. I’ve tried other recipes for Cacio e Pepe and the sauce clumped up and didn’t work. Your method worked beautifully!

    • — Linda on May 7, 2022
    • Reply
  • Made this last night and not only was it so delicious it was so easy and fast to make. Definitely a keeper! Thanks.

    • — Cynthia on May 4, 2022
    • Reply
    • This recipe was so easy!!! And yummy!

      • — Liz on May 23, 2022
      • Reply
  • Hi there, I have whole wheat spaghetti. Do you think that will work ok? If using would you make any modifications to the recipe? Thanks so much, I’m a big fan!

    • — Jane H on May 2, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Jane, It should be fine. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 3, 2022
      • Reply
  • This was delicious! AND so simple-thank you for sharing your amazing recipes 😊

    • — Becca on May 2, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, would this recipe work with grated parmesan instead? Thank you!

    • — Trisha on April 29, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Trisha, It will work with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, but the flavor won’t be quite as bold.

      • — Jenn on April 29, 2022
      • Reply
    • Made this recipe tonight. Delicious!

      • — Nancy L. on May 6, 2022
      • Reply
  • I love your recipes and your website is often one of my “go-to’s”. I do wish you had another SAVE button right after the recipe. I like to read the recipe before I save it, so that would be really helpful. Thanks! Ellen

    • — Ellen on April 28, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Ellen, so glad you like the recipes! Actually, as you scroll down the page to the recipe there is a heart on the far right side of the page. If you click on that, it will add the recipe to your recipe box. Hope that helps!

      • — Jenn on April 29, 2022
      • Reply

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