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Cacio e Pepe

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My favorite cacio e pepe recipe is easy to make in about 30 minutes with just 4 simple ingredients.

Cacio e Pepe

Anthony Bourdain once said that cacio e pepe “could be the greatest thing in the history of the world.”

And I have to say, I wholeheartedly agree. ♡

This classic Roman pasta easily ranks up there as one of our family’s all-time favorite comfort foods. We cook up a batch of cacio e pepe at least once or twice a month, often turning to it in a pinch because we make it a point to keep the three main ingredients — “cacio” (cheese), “pepe” (black pepper), and pasta (we usually opt for bucatini) — always stocked in our kitchen. Barclay’s usually in charge of grating up a big pile of cheese while I make a big green salad or some roasted veggies to go on the side. Then once the pasta is ready to go and tossed with that irresistibly glossy cheese and pepper sauce, we always waste zero time dishing it up and grabbing a fork and diving in. There’s nothing better than a steaming hot bowl of cacio e pepe!

That said, as simple as the cacio e pepe ingredient list may be, this dish is famously finicky when it comes to technique. If the cheese is overheated or the starchy pasta water isn’t emulsified properly, the sauce can turn into a sticky, clumpy mess, which I can vouch from experience is always such a tragedy. So this week, while we are revisiting the four classic Roman pasta recipes, I went in and updated this post with all of the best tips for cacio e pepe success that I’ve learned over the years. We also added in a new video below that will hopefully provide some visuals to help clarify each step of the process. And we also now have a pronunciation guide, so that all of us non-Italians can give the name of the dish the proper respect it deserves.

I do want to note that I prefer to add a bit of butter to my cacio e pepe, which I’m well aware is not authentically included in traditional cacio e pepe, and makes this more similar to Roman-style Alfredo. However, after having made and ordered this dish dozens and dozens of times both with and without butter, I’ve decided that I just really love the extra hint of flavor that it adds. You’re welcome to include butter or leave it out, so I’ve included instructions for both options below.

Alright, let’s make some cacio e pepe together!

Video | How To Make Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe Ingredients

Cacio e Pepe Ingredients

Here are a few notes about the cacio e pepe ingredients that you will need for this recipe:

  • Pasta: Thick spaghetti, bucatini, or tonnarelli are the three pasta shapes most often traditionally used when making cacio e pepe, but this recipe will work with just about any pasta shape you happen to have on hand. I recommend using bronze-cut pasta, if possible, since the rougher edges will help the cacio e pepe sauce better adhere to the pasta.
  • Pecorino Romano: This aged sheep’s cheese is always traditionally used in the Roman pastas, and its salty, grassy, earthy flavor is absolutely delicious in cacio e pepe. That said, during one of my cooking classes in Rome, my professor swore by using a 50/50 blend of Pecorino and Parmigiano (Parmesan), which I’ve also tried and agree is delicious.
  • Butter: Yes!! I know this is a controversial and certainly a non-traditional ingredient in cacio e pepe, which is typically made with only cheese and pepper. But as mentioned above, I’ve made this dish dozens of times both ways and have decided I simply prefer it with a bit of butter. You’re completely welcome to omit the butter though and just add some more starchy pasta water in its place.
  • Black pepper: It’s very important to freshly ground the black pepper to give this recipe optimum flavor, so grab your pepper mill instead of the pre-ground black pepper you can buy at the store. I definitely prefer my cacio e pepe heavy on the “pepe” (black pepper), but know that many people are sensitive to black pepper, so please feel free to use however much you prefer to taste. Also please note that the recipe calls for coarsely-ground black pepper. If you only have finely-ground black pepper on hand, you will need to use less.

Process photo of making cacio e pepe sauce

Cacio e Pepe Tips & Troubleshooting

Before we get to the full cacio e pepe recipe below, here are a few tips to keep in mind when making this pasta:

  • Read through the recipe first. This recipe is not difficult to make, but it does require a bit of multitasking that goes very quickly once you begin cooking the pasta. So I recommend taking a few minutes to read the entire recipe fully before you begin cooking.
  • Finely-grate the cheese by hand. As always, it’s important to grate the cheese by hand versus buying pre-grated cheese at the store (which usually contains anti-caking agents that prevent the cheese from melting smoothly). I recommend using a microplane or your preferred grater to finely grate the cheese just before adding it to the recipe.
  • Be sure to use a large enough sauté pan. You are going to need ample room to toss the pasta when combining it with the sauce, so it’s important to use a large pan or stockpot that has plenty of space.
  • Have a strainer or tongs ready to go. I find it’s much easier to use a spider strainer (or tongs, if using long noodles) to transfer the pasta directly from the stockpot to the sauté pan. But if you do not own either of those, you can use a heatproof cup to scoop out a few cups of the starchy water (it’s always good to reserve more than you need, just in case). Then you can drain the pasta in a colander and transfer it immediately to the sauté pan.
  • Don’t use too much pasta water. We want the starches in the pasta water to be very concentrated for this recipe, which will later help to emulsify the cheese sauce and adhere it to the pasta. So I recommend filling your stockpot no more than half full (about 3 quarts).
  • Don’t overcook the pasta. In Italy, it’s very important that the pasta is served al dente so that it still has a nice firm bite to it. Since the pasta will continue cooking slightly while it is tossed with the sauce, it’s important to keep a close eye on the pasta during the final few minutes of cooking so that you can transfer it over as *soon* as it just barely reaches al dente.
  • Don’t overheat the sauce. If you’ve ever had the cheese clump up or stick to the pan when making cacio e pepe (very common, but always such a tragedy!), it was likely due to the cheese being overheated. Be absolutely sure that the burner is turned off below the sauté pan with the melted butter. (If you have an electric stove, it’s best to transfer the pan to a cool burner since the original will still retain heat.) And toss the pasta continuously after you add in the cheese so that it can be exposed to cooler air and not overheat while sitting still in the pan.
  • Serve immediately. This pasta is definitely best served immediately hot out of the pan, so dish it up as soon as the sauce has emulsified and enjoy!

Mixing pasta into cacio e pepe sauce

Cacio e Pepe FAQ

How do you pronounce “cacio e pepe?” The correct cacio e pepe pronunciation in Italian is: “KA-choh eh PEH-peh.”

What does “cacio e pepe” mean? It means “cheese and pepper,” referencing the Pecorino cheese and black pepper used to make the sauce.

Where did cacio e pepe originate? The exact origins and evolution of the dish are controversial among historians, as all of the Roman pastas tend to be. Some believe cacio e pepe “first appeared centuries ago among shepherds spending the spring and summer months in the grazing meadows of the Apennine Mountains, which traverse the Italian peninsula. While keeping watch over their flocks, shepherds would tap into personal stores of dried pasta and pepper; cheap, easy to transport and resistant to spoilage, these two ingredients were combined with the cheese (made from milk of the herders’ flocks) to make a delicious, simple dish that kept them warm on cold evenings.” That said, some modern historians believe the origins of cacio e pepe may have been less romantic, likely developing “in the mines and factories that once surrounded the Lazio region encompassing Rome, near where low-income families once lived.”¹

How do I prevent the cheese from clumping or sticking to the pan? This dish is famously finicky and prone to clumping if the cheese sauce does not properly emulsify. As mentioned above, always always finely grate the cheese by hand versus purchasing pre-grated cheese at the store. Be absolutely sure that the sauté pan with the butter has been removed from the heat (or a still-hot burner) before adding the pasta. Be sure to toss the pasta quickly and constantly once you begin adding the cheese. Then as soon as the cheese begins to emulsify and melt into a glossy, smooth, dreamy sauce, serve the pasta immediately. This pasta is always best served hot out of the pan.

Bucatini Cacio e Pepe in Serving Bowl

The 4 Roman Pastas

Interested in trying out all four of the classic Roman pastas? These traditional recipes won’t let you down!

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Cacio e Pepe

Cacio e Pepe

  • Author: Ali
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 2 to 3 servings 1x

Description

This cacio e pepe recipe is easy to make in about 30 minutes with just 4 simple ingredients. Feel free to double the recipe if you would like to use a full package of pasta!


Ingredients

Scale

Instructions

  1. Boil the pasta water. Fill a large stockpot about halfway full of water (roughly 3 quarts) and bring it to a rolling boil. Generously season the water with fine sea salt (about 2 tablespoons).
  2. Bloom the pepper. Meanwhile, as the pasta water heats, melt the butter in a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium heat. Add the pepper and let it cook for 30 seconds, then turn off the heat. If you have an electric stove, you’ll want to remove the pan from the hot burner entirely.
  3. Cook the pasta. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is just barely al dente.
  4. Toss the pasta. Use tongs* to quickly transfer the pasta directly to the sauté pan with the melted butter and pepper. Add 1/3 cup of the starchy pasta water to the pan and toss the pasta briefly to combine. Add in half of the cheese and toss the pasta briefly to coat. Add in the remaining half of the cheese and continue tossing the pasta, adding in a few extra tablespoons of starchy pasta water if needed to thin out the sauce, until the cheese is melted and forms a smooth and glossy sauce.
  5. Serve. Serve the pasta immediately, garnished with an extra twist of black pepper and/or extra Pecorino if desired. This pasta is definitely best served hot out of the pan, so please enjoy it right away!


Notes

Butter: Feel free to use less butter, if you prefer. Or you can also omit the butter entirely and just use extra starchy pasta water in its place, which is the traditional way to make cacio e pepe.

Black pepper: I like my cacio e pepe heavy on the “pepe” (black pepper) and always add extra as a garnish. If you are sensitive to black pepper, however, you may want to use less than the recipe suggests. Also please note that the 1 teaspoon measurement is for coarsely-ground black pepper. (So if you are using finely-ground pepper, you will need to use less.)

Tong alternatives: If using a shorter pasta shape (such as rigatoni), I recommend transferring the pasta with a spider strainer instead. Or if you do not own either, you can scoop out a few cups of the starchy pasta water and reserve the water in a heat-safe bowl, then drain the rest of the pasta in a colander and transfer it to the sauté pan.

Recipe edit: This recipe was edited in 2022 to include 2 instead of 3 tablespoons of butter, and the instructions were updated and clarified as well.

The Best Cacio e Pepe Closeup in Bowl

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107 comments on “Cacio e Pepe”

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  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!

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

  5. Thanks for the recipe!

  6. I tried cacio e pepe in Rome and I absolutely loved it! And so easy to make.
    Alexis

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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?

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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. :)

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

  17. 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 ?

  18. 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!

  19. 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

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

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

  22. 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!

  23. Nooooooo….. NO butter please!

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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!

  29. “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.

  30. 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!

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

  32. 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!

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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 :)

  36. 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!

  37. 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!

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

  39. 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.

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

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

  42. 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.

  43. 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!

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. As always, your recipes don’t disappoint.

    Loved it, and followed instructions. Added red pepper flakes for some more heat. My cheese didn’t melt either , but it was just fine. Taste was delish.

    I have made Chrissy Tiegen’s recipe for this for some time, but she uses bacon and husband and I are cutting out red meat (although I eat enough cheese to make up for the red meat ?). I think I might combine this recipe and Chrissy’s and come up w my own (ie use oil instead of butter to make it healthier, add garlic and red pepper but do everything else how this recipe says).

    Thanks again for easy and delicious dinner recipes!

  48. Finally found the perfect step-by-step recipe. This was super easy and so delicious! Allowing the sauce to cool and slowly adding the cheese while whisking was key. Creamy and smooth. This was a big hit!

  49. Yum! Came out great. Added a bit of olive oil.

  50. Your instructions are far more specific – and useful – than any other cacio e pepe recipe I’ve come across. I’ve tried it so many times, and it’s always a clumpy mess.

    The key part you include and others don’t is the instruction to take the butter/garlic/water mixture off the stove and let it stand for three minutes — three minutes! — before stirring in the cheese.

    Thank you!

    I think this time it’s going to be fantastic.