Cacio e Pepe

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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!

Cacio e Pepe Recipe

So friends! I don’t do this very often, but I’m back today with a very important recipe update that is going to make your life even easier…and even more delicious.

Meet my newly-revised, 4-ingredient, 20-minute, truly-deeply-foolproof cacio e pepe recipe. ♡♡♡

Many of you have made and loved the original cacio e pepe recipe that I posted here on the blog a few years ago.  But some of you reported back that you were having issues with the cheese sauce clumping a bit, which it could be prone to do when made separately on the side if the temperatures of the ingredients weren’t quite right.  So I went back to the drawing table this winter, and experimented with just about every possible method in the world to make cacio e pepe.  And in the end, I have good news for us all — the absolute easiest way to make cacio e pepe ended up being the winner, both in terms of taste and reliability!

So grab your four simple ingredients — pasta, cheese, black pepper and butter — and let’s make an epic batch of this “grown up mac and cheese” together.  You are going to love it.

Cacio e Pepe Recipe | 1-Minute Video

Bucatini Pasta

What Is Cacio e Pepe?

Actually, a quick history lesson before we get to the recipe — so exactly what is cacio e pepe?

Literally translated, cacio e pepe means “cheese and pepper” in Italian.  (Also, the second “c” in Italian is pronounced as a “ch”, so it sounds like “kah-cheeoh eh peh-peh.”)  For centuries, this famous cheesy pasta dish has been a staple in Roman cuisine.  It is traditionally made with thick spaghetti (traditionally bucatini), Pecorino cheese (or you could sub in Parmesan), and loads of freshly-cracked black pepper.  Then instead of adding in lots of heavy cream to make the cheese sauce, all you need are a few ladle-fulls of the boiling starchy water that was used to cook the pasta.  I also like to add in a few tablespoons of butter, because I’m convinced it takes this dish over the top into next-level pasta heaven, but you are welcome to omit those if you prefer.

Basically, it’s the original mac and cheese — made with black pepper and Pecorino.  And it is delicious.

Cacio e Pepe Recipe

Cacio e Pepe Ingredients:

Alright, next, a few quite notes for you about the 4 ingredients needed to make this cacio e pepe recipe!  You will need:

  1. Pasta: Noodles are traditionally used for this dish (bucatini specifically, although thick spaghetti, linguine or fettucine noodles would work well too).  Or if you really want to take this recipe to the next level, try making it with homemade pasta!
  2. Pecorino or Parmesan: Cacio e Pepe is best when made with a good, aged, freshly-grated Pecorino Romano cheese.  But we often make ours at home with Parmesan cheese when we don’t have Pecorino on hand, and I can vouch that it works great too.  One very important note about cheese though — you must use freshly-grated cheese when making cacio e pepe.  The pre-grated stuff in the refrigerated section (or in that famous green jar) simply will not melt well into this sauce and will likely make it clumpy and gritty instead.  So put your biceps to work and grate the cheese by hand (I use this grater) and I promise it will be worth it.
  3. Freshly-cracked black pepper: I love a nice coarse grind for cacio e pepe, but we did note on our trip to Rome that almost every restaurant we visited used a fine grind of black pepper in their cacio e pepe instead.  So — up to you!  If you do use a finer grind, note that you will need a smaller quantity of black pepper.  And as always, you will get more flavor if the black pepper is freshly ground in a pepper mill.
  4. Butter: I like to use butter in the sauce for extra flavor, but you can omit the butter (and just use a bit of extra starchy pasta water) if you prefer.  To help the butter melt quickly, I recommend cutting it into 1-tablespoon chunks before adding it to the pasta.

You will also need a stockpot 2/3 full of water to cook the pasta, generously-seasoned with sea salt (which will help to flavor the pasta and cheese sauce).

How To Make Cacio e Pepe

How To Make Cacio e Pepe:

So here’s my easy, breezy, foolproof way to make the best cacio e pepe!

  1. Cook the pasta.  In a large stockpot full of generously-salted water, boil your pasta until it just barely al dente.  Try to avoid overcooking the pasta.
  2. Grate the cheese.  To save time, I recommend finely grating the cheese while the pasta water comes to a boil.
  3. Reserve some of the starchy pasta water.  Once the pasta is about 1 minute away from being al dente, scoop 2 cups of the starchy boiling pasta water into a separate heat-proof container and set it aside.
  4. Drain the pasta.  Transfer the pasta to a colander and drain off all of the remaining water.  Then transfer the pasta back to the hot stockpot, placed off of the burner.
  5. Add the butter, starchy water, cheese and black pepper.  Add in the diced butter and 1 cup of the starchy pasta water and toss quickly to combine.  Add in the cheese and black pepper and quickly toss to combine. Continue to gradually add in extra starchy pasta water, as needed, until the cheese has completely melted and turned into a silky sauce that coats the pasta evenly.
  6. Serve.  Then dish it up immediately!  Cacio e pepe is definitely best when served hot off the stove, so serve it up right away — topped with extra shredded cheese and black pepper, if you would like — and enjoy!

(Note: The directions above are definitely the easiest — and my preferred — way to make this recipe.  But if you would like a more prominent black pepper flavor, you can toast the pepper on its own in a separate sauté pan for a few minutes or sauté the pepper in melted butter for a few minutes, and then add the pepper/butter to the pasta as directed.

That said though, after testing this recipe with and without the extra pepper-toasting step, we honestly could hardly taste the difference.  And the one-pot method definitely saves you from having to wash an extra sauté pan!  But I wanted to mention this option for those of you who might be interested.  Of course, if you’re craving extra black pepper flavor, you can also simply add a few extra shakes of freshly-cracked black pepper to the pasta too. ♡)

Best Cacio e Pepe Recipe

Cacio e Pepe Variations:

There are so many ways that you could customize this traditional cacio e pepe recipe if you would like!  For example, feel free to:

  • Make it gluten-free: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta noodles.
  • Add garlic: Sauté a few cloves of minced garlic in the butter, then add the mixture to your pasta.
  • Add crushed red pepper flakes: I also love adding in a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to give the pasta a subtle kick.
  • Add a protein: Cacio e pepe would also be delicious with some cooked chicken, shrimp or bacon added in.
  • Add veggies/greens: You could also add in your favorite cooked veggies (mushrooms, asparagus, zucchini and red peppers are a few of our faves) or greens (wilted spinach, kale, collards, etc).
  • Add nuts: I can also vouch that this pasta is delicious when finished with a sprinkle of toasted nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, etc).
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!  Feel free to double the recipe if you would like to use a standard-size package of pasta.


Scale

Ingredients


Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta.  In a large stockpot of generously-salted water, boil your pasta according to package instructions until it just barely al dente.  (Try to avoid overcooking the pasta.)
  2. Grate the cheese.  While the pasta water comes to a boil, finely-grate the cheese by hand.
  3. Reserve some of the starchy pasta water.  Once the pasta is about 1 minute away from being al dente, carefully scoop out 2 cups of the starchy boiling pasta water and transfer the water into a separate heat-proof container.  Set aside.
  4. Drain the pasta.  Drain the pasta using a colander.  Then transfer the pasta back to the hot stockpot, placed off of the hot burner.
  5. Add the butter, starchy water, cheese and black pepper.  Add in the diced butter and 1 cup of the starchy pasta water and toss quickly to combine.  Add in the cheese and black pepper and quickly toss to combine. Continue to gradually add in extra starchy pasta water, as needed, until the cheese has completely melted and turned into a silky sauce that coats the pasta evenly.
  6. Serve.  Dish up the hot pasta and serve immediately, garnished with extra cheese and black pepper if desired.


Notes

Butter: Feel free to use less butter, if you prefer.  Or you could also omit the butter and just add in a little extra starchy pasta water, as needed.

Optional black pepper step: The directions above are definitely the easiest — and my preferred — way to make this recipe.  But if you would like a more prominent black pepper flavor, you can toast the pepper on its own in a separate sauté pan for a few minutes or sauté the pepper in melted butter for a few minutes, and then add the pepper/butter to the pasta as directed. That said though, after testing this recipe with and without the extra pepper-toasting step, we honestly could hardly taste the difference.  And the one-pot method definitely saves you from having to wash an extra sauté pan!  But I wanted to mention this option for those of you who might be interested.  Of course, if you’re craving extra black pepper flavor, you can also simply add a few extra shakes of freshly-cracked black pepper to the pasta too. ♡)

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84 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. Yum! Some pasta sounds amazing right now!
    Kari
    http://sweetteasweetie.com/passion-fruit-colada/

  3. 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. 🤣

  4. 4 stars
    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!

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

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

  7. Thanks for the recipe!

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 5 stars
    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?

  12. 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.

  13. 5 stars
    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!

  14. 5 stars
    I made this tonight and it was delish!!! Can’t wait to make it again! Thanks for the recipe!

  15. 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.

  16. 5 stars
    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.

  17. 5 stars
    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. :)

  18. 5 stars
    How had I never heard of this pasta until now? We made it for lunch and loved it!!

  19. 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 🤗

  20. 5 stars
    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!

  21. 5 stars
    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

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

  23. 5 stars
    I can’t believe how good this turned out!!! No clumps here…just an amazing light sauce. We loved it.

  24. 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!

  25. Nooooooo….. NO butter please!

  26. 5 stars
    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

  27. 2 stars
    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.

  28. 5 stars
    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.

  29. 5 stars
    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.

  30. 5 stars
    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!

  31. 4 stars
    “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.

  32. 5 stars
    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!

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

  34. 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!

  35. 5 stars
    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.

  36. 4 stars
    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.

  37. 5 stars
    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 :)

  38. 5 stars
    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!

  39. 3 stars
    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!

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

  41. 5 stars
    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.

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

  43. 5 stars
    Okay I LOVE this recipe and have shared it a few times with others as well. However after

  44. 5 stars
    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.

  45. 4 stars
    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!

  46. 1 star
    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

  47. 5 stars
    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.

  48. 5 stars
    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.

  49. 5 stars
    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.

  50. 5 stars
    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!