Cacio e Pepe

This traditional Cacio e Pepe recipe only takes about 20 minutes to make, with 4 easy ingredients.  It’s the perfect impromptu recipe for pasta night!

The Best Cacio e Pepe Recipe

Friends!  Gather round.  It’s time that we have a heart-to-heart today about the magical pasta recipe that’s nearest and dearest to mine.

Classic cacio e pepe. ✨✨✨

As any of you who follow along on Instagram well know, Barclay and I have a bit of a thing for this classic Roman pasta.  We make it (ahem, at least) once a week.  Usually with an enormous salad, a bottle of rioja, and a side of Netflix — a combo that we wholeheartedly recommend.  Usually on whichever day of the week feels the craziest, since it’s easy to whip up in just 20 minutes, and calls for 4 simple ingredients that we always have on hand.  And usually — well, let’s make that always — it totally hits the spot.

Anyway, after posting a little step-by-step video for how to make cacio e pepe recently on Instagram stories, I got a flood of comments from you all asking for my exact recipe.  Ha, which I admittedly totally did not have.  It has always been one of those improvised add-a-little-of-this-then-maybe-a-little-more-of-that kind of meals for me.  But, this week, I pulled out my measuring cups and legit measured everything and snapped some photos to share with you.  So at the risk of adding one more cacio e pepe recipe to the thousands already online, I humbly present to you my tips for how to make some stellar cacio e pepe.

Fair warning.

It’s just about the easiest and most delicious thing ever.

Cacio e Pepe Recipe | 1-Minute Video

The Best Cacio e Pepe with Parmesan

What Is Cacio e Pepe?

Ok, so first things first — what exactly is cacio e pepe?

Literally translated, it means “cheese and pepper” pasta.  Traditionally, that has included Pecorino (or Parmesan) for the cheese, and loads of freshly-cracked black peppercorns for the pepper.  But instead of just sprinkling those on top, the cheese and pepper magically come together with the starchy pasta water and some butter (while the pasta is cooking) to form the most luxurious cheese sauce.  It’s 4-ingredient magic.

Also, this Italian dish originated specifically in Rome.  And sure enough, when Barclay and I were there last month, we saw it listed on the menu literally everywhere.  We were more than happy to do lots of taste-testing “research”.  (When in Rome, right?!)  But we were pleasantly surprised to find that — I think because the dish truly is so simple — our version tasted totally on par with all of the cacio e pepe we tried in Italy.  Win-win!

How To Make Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe Ingredients:

So what are the four magical ingredients in Cacio e Pepe?  You’ll need:

  1. Pasta: Noodles are traditional for this dish, but really any shape of pasta will work.  We usually use bucatini, spaghetti or linguine.
  2. Pecorino or Parmesan: A good, aged Pecorino cheese is also traditional in cacio e pepe.  But we often make ours with Parmesan (or a blend of the two) when we don’t have Pecorino on hand.  Major note about cheese though — you must-must-must use freshly-grated cheese for this dish.  The pre-grated stuff in the refrigerated section (or in that famous green jar) won’t melt well into this sauce, and will instead make it all clumpy and weird.  Trust me.  Freshly grated for the wine.
  3. Freshly-cracked black pepper: I really love a nice coarse grind for cacio e pepe, but we did note that in Rome, almost everyone used a really fine grind.  Up to you!  If you do use a finer grind, note that you will not need to add quite as much pepper.  And again, freshly ground pepper will taste worlds better here.
  4. Butter: I like to use butter in the sauce for extra flavor, but you could also sub in olive oil if you prefer.

Also, you’ll need lots of water to cook the pasta, generously-seasoned with sea salt (which will help add to the flavor of the sauce).

The BEST Cacio e Pepe Recipe

How To Make Cacio e Pepe:

Of course, you could make a delicious meal simply by tossing some pasta with butter and Parmesan.  But the secret to cacio e pepe is all in this classic method.  Simply…

  1. Cook your pasta.  In a large stockpot full of generously-salted water (<– read this for how much salt to use!), boil your pasta until it just barely al dente.  You want to avoid over-cooking the pasta here since it will cook a bit more in the pan with the sauce.
    • Edited to add: I’ve had a few of you recommend cooking the pasta in considerably less water than usual so that it’s extra starchy.  Then when you add that water to the sauce, it will help prevent the sauce from clumping.
  2. Then meanwhile, make your sauce.  Multitasking!  At about the same time that you add the pasta to the boiling water, add your butter to a large sauté pan (large enough to hold the pasta) and melt over medium-heat.  Then add in your black pepper and let it cook for another minute or so.  Then very carefully, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the starchy hot pasta water and add it to the butter mixture, which will immediately bubble up.  Give it a good whisk to combine.  Then remove pan from heat, wait for 3 minutes, add in the grated cheese, and whisk quickly until completely combined.
  3. Combine the pasta and the sauce.  Then, once the pasta and sauce are ready to go, reserve an extra 1/2 cup of starchy pasta water from the stockpot and set it aside.  Strain your pasta completely, and let it rest for 2-3 minutes to cool off a tiny bit.  Then add half of your pasta to the sauce, give it a good toss, add the remaining, and toss until combined.  The heat of the pasta will help to melt the cheese and form that silky, luxurious sauce.  That said — if the sauce starts to look a little dry, don’t hesitate to add in a splash or two of that reserved starchy pasta water.
    • Edited to add: In order to help prevent clumping, you want to avoid having both the pasta and the sauce be too hot when they are combined.  Otherwise, the cheese will overheat and clump together, instead of melting into the creamy sauce.  So be sure that both your sauce and pasta (and any additional starchy pasta water that you add) have cooled off just a bit before tossing them together.
  4. Then…serve!  I recommend topping yours with a little extra cheese and pepper.  Because…cacio e pepe.  ;)

See?  So easy!!

Cacio e Pepe Recipe

Cacio e Pepe Variations:

That said, as much as we love the classic 4-ingredient recipe, cacio e pepe is easy to customize with add-ins.  Some of our faves include:

  • garlic
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • greens (wilted spinach, kale, collards, etc.)
  • veggies (zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, and roasted red peppers are a few of our faves)
  • proteins (I love occasionally adding some bacon or shrimp to this)
  • a sprinkle of nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, etc.)

That said, more often than not, we usually stick to the classic recipe and just serve veggies and salads and proteins (if any) on the side.  But feel free to customize this dish and make it your own!

Bottom line, if you’re new to cacio e pepe, I just highly recommend giving it a try.  You may just end up with a weekly cacio e pepe tradition yourself.  ;)

Print

Cacio e Pepe

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 2 -3 servings 1x

Description

This traditional Cacio e Pepe recipe only takes about 20 minutes to make, with 4 easy ingredients.  For extra flavor, feel free to sauté 2 cloves minced garlic in the butter along with the black pepper.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces pasta (I recommend bucatini, spaghetti, or linguine)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon freshly-cracked, coarse black pepper
  • 1 1/3 cups freshly-grated* Pecorino or Parmesan cheese (or a mix)

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta in boiling generously-salted water according to package instructions, until it is just barely al dente.  (Again, just want to emphasize that it’s important that your pasta water is well-salted, since this will help to flavor the sauce as well as the pasta itself.  I also recommend cooking the pasta in less water than usual, so that the water is extra-starchy.)
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the pepper, and cook for 1 minute.  Then ladle out about 1/2 cup of the boiling starchy pasta water, and slowly add it to the melted butter mixture.  (Be careful, it will bubble up vigorously when added.)  Whisk until combined.
  3. Remove pan from heat, and let it rest for at least 3 minutes.  Gradually add in the cheese, and whisk until combined.
  4. Once the pasta is ready to go, reserve an extra 1/2 cup of starchy pasta water from the stockpot and set it aside.  Strain your pasta completely, and let it rest for 2-3 minutes to cool off a tiny bit.  Then add about half of your pasta to the sauce, give it a good toss, add the remaining pasta, and toss until completely combined, adding in a splash of the reserved pasta water if needed if the sauce starts to seem dry.  Taste, and season with extra salt, if needed, and toss to combine.
  5. Serve warm, garnished with extra cheese and pepper.

Notes

*Freshly-grated cheese in this recipe is a must.  If you use the pre-grated cheese, it will not melt well into this cheesy sauce.  So grab a block of cheese and a grater, and you should have plenty of time to make it happen while the pasta water comes to a boil.

Also, I’ve received some comments from readers who have had trouble with their cheese clumping.  To help prevent that, I recommend:

  • Using freshly-grated cheese that is grated as finely as possible.
  • Using less water while cooking your pasta, so that it is extra starchy (this will help the cheese sauce come together)
  • Resting both your cheese sauce and cooked pasta off the heat for at least 2-3 minutes after cooking (before combining the sauce and pasta) so that they can cool off slightly, and not overheat the cheese.

If it still continues to clump, you can try tossing the cooked pasta and cheese sauce together in a separate serving bowl, to minimize the heat.

How To Make Cacio e Pepe

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51 comments on “Cacio e Pepe”

  1. This looks amazing! And I’m a little embarrassed to admit I hadn’t heard of it before… Will be trying this very soon…My husband will be happy to have a replacement for the pasta al limone kick I’ve been on. :)

  2. Would it be completely and utterly offensive to add some fresh spinach leaves to the butter sauce? Maybe some cherry tomatoes, as well?

    I’ve been trying to eat less pasta this year, but I may have to break that fast to try this!

    • Yes 😁. Then you’ll have to call it something else
      Sorry but here in Italia cacio e pepe IS just that. 🤣


  3. Love this recipe! I tried it from your IG Stories. The sauce was clumpy, but it still tasted so good! I’m excited to try it again with the exact measurements to see if I can get a smoother sauce. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Would love the link to the video! I looked but did not see it. Ty!

  5. Currently in Rome for a month and totally fell in love with caccio e pepe! <3 will try your recipe!

  6. Thanks for the recipe!

  7. I tried cacio e pepe in Rome and I absolutely loved it! And so easy to make.
    Alexis
    http://simplehealthstyle.com

  8. Sounds fantastic! Also I think there is a typo in your post regarding fresh cheese. It reads “fresh cheese for the wine”. Can’t have innocent wine harmed in the preparation of this meal.

  9. I quite literally fell in LOVE with cacio é pepe when in Rome. I first heard about it through Anthony Bourdain & he said you’ve got to have it first in Rome before anywhere else. Well on my first night in Rome I was transported to culinary heaven. LOL Seriously, I ate that meal so many times throughout Italy (but note that it disappears off the menu when you get further away from Rome). I’m so excited to try your recipe at home!


  10. Made this last night and it was amazing! My cheese did not melt though…. I didn’t really measure it but we used a grano padano and a pecorino romano – both freshly shredded….I have a nice chunk missing from my thumb ;) Any idea what I was doing wrong? Maybe too much cheese?

  11. Love pasta so much!! I tried out this recipe tonight and although it seems simple enough, I ended up with clumps of parmesan in my sauce. It just wouldn’t incorporate for me:( Luckily it still tasted ok and was just for the family anyways.


  12. I’ve made other cacio e pepe recipes before, but this one was the absolute best. Such a simple meal, but SO flavorful. Thanks for posting this after your IG story, Ali!


  13. I made this tonight and it was delish!!! Can’t wait to make it again! Thanks for the recipe!

  14. I had the same problem several readers who already commented had — the cheese wouldn’t melt and just clumped up and I had to trash it. I used freshly grated parm, and it’s the same brand I’ve used with alfredo sauce so I know it’s melt-able.

    So HERE’s the weird thing — because I knew it worked with alfredo, on my second attempt with the butter sauce for this when it still clumped, I added a bunch of milk, heated it up and then the cheese melted just fine.

    What could it be that would prevent cheese from melting in butter/water alone?

    Also, my makeshift alfredo was SO peppery. I didn’t have fresh ground so I used regular, but I figured that would be less potent than fresh but maybe I’m wrong. Is the dish really meant to be so peppery that it’s spicy? My mouth was burning, ha ha.


  15. Thank You!!! I made this tonight for dinner and I want to make it every night now! I added some sautéed mushrooms and zucchini and garlic and a handful of grape tomatoes that needed to get eaten soon. It was amazing! And my husband loved it too, he’s not usually a fan of vegetarian recipes.


  16. This…is amazing. We made it last night and couldn’t believe how creamy and delicious it was. We may have to adopt your weekly cacio e pepe tradition. :)


  17. How had I never heard of this pasta until now? We made it for lunch and loved it!!

  18. I made the Casio de Pepe and forgot to take a pic☹️ BUT it was amazing!! Not too peppery- I was concerned for my husband’s taste – he loved it too! When we were in Rome in ‘04 I didn’t notice this pasta dish. But if I go back I’ll definitely try it there- but mine was excellent! Thanks for the recipe 🤗


  19. The best simple yet sophisticated pasta ever, along with the best step-by-step instructions and helpful notes; it’s important to follow them. I’ve tried to make sauces with pasta water in the past, with no success. This recipe is the foundation for many variations of using pasta water in your sauce. Delicious!


  20. This is a wonderful recipe. It is loaded with flavor, goes great with wine and took almost no time to make. I am no chef (so I didn’t dare tweak it, also I HATE cooking, but this recipe is a definite keeper. Thank you, and I love your website

  21. Just used this recipe as a guide for my dinner. Added garlic, red pepper flakes, spinach and leftover chicken. Absolutely delicious and easy!


  22. I can’t believe how good this turned out!!! No clumps here…just an amazing light sauce. We loved it.

  23. I absolutely love cacio e pepe and OBSESSED with a high quality Truffle paste added!! Like Pantin if you don’t have the real thing! It is simply divine!

  24. Nooooooo….. NO butter please!


  25. First time trying this dish and it came out wonderful! Only changes to the recipe was that I sauteed the pepper with three cloves of minced garlic and added red pepper flakes. Also used Romano cheese instead of Parmesan. But this came out so delicious. The sauce was clumpy though, maybe i did not get the temperature right. But taste was spot on and for such simple ingredients, the dish is impressive. Have this with a glass of white wine….è perfetto


  26. NO butter (ugh) in “traditional” caico e pepe.
    Just Spaghetti, Pecorino, Black Pepper and some of the pasta water.
    The proper technique and ingredients will give you the same creamy, flavorful sauce that they serve in Rome.

    • Si. I agree but I’ve had it in Roma both ways and I think what makes it so good is the cheese used. Some I’ve had is wonderful and has had some butter.Some not. Some not so good and still with butter or not.


  27. This goes without saying, but: green can shake cheese “Parmesan” doesn’t really work. I tried it again with real cheese and omg! So definitely worth busting out that grater, feeling like Ina Garten, and using real ingredients.


  28. Really una buonisimo ricetta. I like that letting the ingredients rest helps. And I agree with using less water to boil pasta. The starchier the water in the sauce the better.
    Thanks for sharing this.


  29. The easiest, best tasting caico e pepe I’ve ever made. I’ve tried many other recipes over the years for this dish, this is definetly my go-to recipe! Amazing how such a simple dish can be so very satisfying. Perfect Meatless Monday meal. A comfort food hug – in pasta form!


  30. “Restaurant quality” per my fiancé. What a great compliment! I tossed in some cannellini beans and peas for extra body. Followed the recipe exactly otherwise. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and poof, dinner! Wonderful and easy recipe.


  31. So fantastic! Hubby is the kind that has to have meat with every meal so when I made this, he turned up his nose. He ate it begrudgingly and loved it! Super easy ingredients (just 4!) But seemed quite gourmet. Thank you for posting and all the commentary. It was super helpful!

  32. For strict vegetarians… make sure the cheese is made with vegetarian friendly rennet. Parmigiano Reggiano for example is made with calf rennet.

  33. Great recipe. Thanks! As someone who eats all kinds of pasta several times a week (and lost 50 lbs. in two years doing so), I have learned that there are a couple of myths about pasta cookery that can safely be debunked. First, rough-textured pasta is not necessary to cling better to sauces. People in Italy use whatever pasta, including what they make fresh at home with no bronze dies. Second, I use a 3-quart pot. A large, 6-quart pot of water takes forever to boil and wastes water. The starchier water is better anyway. (And it’s fine to break the long pasta in half unless swirling long noodles is really your thing. ) Third, no need to add salt to the water. You probably don’t need all the sodium and it makes no difference, since you can always add salt to the sauce or the finished pasta and spare pouring all that salt and water down the drain. I know this will engender howls of protest but some old myths die hard.
    Buon appetito!


  34. Holy crap this was amazing! My husband doesn’t like pasta and as soon as he tried a bite of mine, he tried to steal the dish. This will be a new frequent meal.


  35. I’ve made this Cacio e Pepe 5+ times now, and I t absolutely crushes every time. I had the same problems as others the first time w/the clumping cheese—the trick is really keeping an eye on the temperature of the sauce when the cheese is introduced. The times listed in the recipe can vary widely depending on whether you’re cooking on a gas/electric range and the type of pot you’re using. This is a top notch recipe, and any hangups you might experience can be worked out with some practice.

    And to Maureen with the burning mouth—quantity of fresh ground/pre ground pepper depends on coarseness. The same measurement of pre ground pepper will probably be a lot finer aka have a lot more surface area, which will be A LOT more peppery than the same quantity in a coarse grind.


  36. love the simplicity of this past dish – light & delicious flavor! I think this will become one of my go-to recipes as well! thanks so much for sharing :)


  37. Delish! Agree that following the instructions is key…resting both the sauce and the pasta is a critical step. An awesome, crowd-pleasing meatless meal. Thank you!


  38. I had this in Rome about a month ago, so delicious! This is very similar.. only input I have, a little too much cheese, and I’m a cheese LOVER! I typically don’t follow recipes to a tee but this one I did, I think a cup of cheese would be perfect!

  39. Sounds wonderful can’t wait to make it. I love pasta dishes.


  40. I have been looking for something different than pasta with oil and broccoli. I read a recipe in a magazine for this dish. Oh boy, this is a home run and my wife liked it too. It will be in the pasta rotation from now on.

  41. I had Cacio e Pepe pizza in Rome just a few weeks ago! It was phenomenal!
    I dream about it…


  42. Okay I LOVE this recipe and have shared it a few times with others as well. However after


  43. Delicious and easy. Topped it w a poached egg and crumbled bacon. Very happy, thanks for the good recipe!

    I didn’t drain the pasta and wait til it cooled, tong’d it right fr the pot into the sauce. Also to make sure the cheese melted and didn’t clump, I whisked it into the sauce over a very low heat, adding pasta water as needed.


  44. Tried this tonight and my sauce turned out very creamy. At first it was clumpy after letting the butter and pepper rest for three minutes, so I put it back on the burner under low heat and continued to whisk until it smoothened out. Super quick and tasty!


  45. Wow. This post is a a disservice to cacio e pepe. The essence of this dish is simplicity, and yet you have manage to drag out a recipe to over 1800 of verbose prose? What’s worse is that your recipe is wrong! This is not cacio e pepe e burro. There is no place for butter and there are literally two steps. Here the recipe in 1788 less words than you used:

    1. cook pasta
    2. mix in pecorino, black pepper, splash pasta water


  46. I’ve made this quite a few times and in the beginning I always had a problem with my cheese clumping. I decided to put some of the pasta water and cheese in the blender and whipped it until it was creamy. I added it to the pan with the pepper and butter and more water if needed and it doesn’t clump.


  47. Using a microplane for the cheese is one of the tricks to getting the sauce the way you want it, from experience. The really fine grate almost always ends in a perfect result.


  48. Hello!

    This is absolutely delicious! My only question is with all the “cooling off” minutes, the end product was very luke warm and cold by the time we finish eating it.